On Nov. 4, 2014, Sheryl L. Lynch made city history to become the first African-American, and woman, to win election to the Marion County Circuit Court in Indiana. Her term runs through Dec. 31, 2020. The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper sat down with Lynch to learn more about her and her historic election.
In person, Lynch, 47, is a trim, athletic woman with attractive features and a husky voice reminiscent of the actress Eartha Kitt. Her parents, Jesse and Shirley Lynch, are retired IPS educators.
Have you experienced racial discrimination?
My grandmother, Vivian Smith, lives in Alabama, she’s 98. I can remember as a little girl going down there. There was a barbecue place that we’d always go to for sandwiches. There were signs up, where we’d have to go to the back. We couldn’t go up front, we couldn’t go inside. You could only go to this little window in the back to order food.
Did your family instruct you to act a certain way, for your own safety?
I was definitely instructed to keep my mouth shut.
Was that hard for you?
I was mouthy, I was always a leader. My dad will tell you, my mom, they always knew I would be a lawyer. I always had to give my opinion, back then, that was not what we were supposed to do. They’d say, ‘you sit there and listen.’ I always had to ask why.
What does your grandmother think of you becoming the first African-American female Circuit Court judge?
She’s in a nursing home, and for the last eight or nine months, she’s (become) hard of hearing. I bought seven Indianapolis Recorder papers, to frame and send to her in the nursing home. I know she’s so proud of me.
Tell us about your family.
I’m a lot like my mother, strong, independent, a born leader – my mother’s very intelligent. My brother, Cory is an Indianapolis firefighter. We come from a family of service. Mom came from Alabama when she was 12. She went to School #29, 45, then Arsenal Technical High School. Dad is from Hopkinsville, Ky. He came here, went to School #26. They met at Tech.
What was campaigning like?
(Clerk-Elect) Myla Eldridge and I campaigned a lot together, we went to church every single Sunday, association meetings, and during the week, we did team up. It was an honor to go through this with her. The African-American churches that Myla and I attended this entire summer, whenever we’d be introduced, no matter how big, how small, the applause was overwhelming. African-Americans like to see other African-Americans representing them. My Pastor Jeffery Johnson at Eastern Star Church really stood by me.
I’ve been a member there for 20 years.
Explain the significance of your position.
The circuit court is the constitutional court. It’s created out of the constitution. The circuit court is a very powerful court and has a lot of unique cases.
How do you feel about winning this election?
I can’t believe it. Right now, the biggest thought I have every day is that I can’t believe God chose me.
Why did you choose the study of law?
I’m probably what you call a workaholic, always have been. I have to stay busy. One of the things I love, is helping people. My parents always told me, ‘Sheryl you can’t save the world.’ That was the person I was. It developed into a passion.
Is it difficult to work paternity cases?
So many people say ‘how can you?’ It’s a little bit more emotional. The best way to explain it is that, when people get married you’re taking a vow, you’re coming together as one. With children involved, it’s more of a family dynamic.
For some reason, I just had this passion for it. You generally don’t make anyone happy. It’s very emotional, it can be very, very sad. You can’t take the child and split the child down the middle and give each parent a whole.
Are you a parent?
I don’t have children of my own, but I helped raise my niece, Ariana Lynch, and my nephew, Cory Lynch II. As I slowly began to make money, I always sacrificed to make sure that, for example, my nephew had a tutor for math, every week. My niece was challenged with learning disabilities. Every single day it helped me be a better judge.
There’s a wall outside the courtroom with a picture of every previous judge, all white men.
Yes, probably the staff, colleagues and even the other judges are probably more thrilled about that wall than I am. Everybody was saying, ‘she’s going up there! The wall will be so different!’ I’ll be sworn in Dec. 29. You get (ceremoniously) robed.
What are your emotions when you think about being sworn in?
The same day, June 3, 2013, when I received a call about running, was the same day we knew my mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s been a very, very tough thing to go through, this period, let alone trying to run. She was not able to be part of election night. I’m hoping she’ll be home (from the nursing home) so we can take her to the ceremony.
Read the rest of the Recorder’s interview with Judge Lynch at Indianapolisrecorder.com.