Through her office door, most days you won’t find Judge Cheryl Rios at her office desk. You’ll find her walking to take her seat in her courtroom.
With a simple zip, but hours of work before that, she knows she is changing people’s lives.
“I consider every case important because they have no other forum to go to for the issues that they’re here for,” Rios said.
But the title “judge” is something she never thought would come before Cheryl.
“Growing up in Oakland, we were poor, but at the time we didn’t know we were,” she said. “We really didn’t have the expectation that I would go onto college and ultimately have a career. I was a kid who never really should have gotten here.”
Honorable Judge Rios wasn’t even the first title that came before her name.
“I was riding my bike to work at the Dillions bakery to work, and I picked up a Washburn catalog and thumbed through it.”
Diving into a chemistry class, telling herself if she passed that course she would continue to take all the pre-requisite classes for nursing. If she recalls correctly, she got a B in that class.
“I surprised myself that I did so well,” she said laughing.
After being a critical care nurse for six years, Rios wanted to take her career to the next level. She went onto law school at Washburn University.
She served as a Topeka Municipal Court judge and was later appointed to move to Shawnee County’s third judicial district’s bench.
In doing that, making history at the same time.
“Being the first Latina on the bench at Shawnee County, as well as the municipal bench, I recognize the importance of the responsibility that I have,” she said. “All of those people in the community who raised me are counting on me.”
Even with all these accomplishments, confidence is something Rios has always struggled with. But found through education and hopes others can do the same.
“I hope that like me, they can step out of the place where they are born, and they can step into something bigger than they ever believed that they could be.”
Rios even has another title that comes before her name as well. Mom.
And her two daughters, Maria and Marisol, who are now in college pursuing English and pre-med degrees only see her success.
“We’re stronger when the 3 of us are together,” Maria said. “My mom has instilled a great sense of strength and fight. My mom is a survivor in many ways, and the fight that she has radiates.”
But Judge Rios credits other women in her life who have inspired her and helped her get where she is today.
“My grandmother, my aunts, my mother, Wilma, Dana Tiger, Nancy Parrish, Kathleen Sebelius, I’m missing so many.” Rios listed. “Ruth Bader Ginsberg, oh my. Those leaders in our lives who have done amazing things and who have reached back and helped other women along the way.”
That’s what she hopes she can do for others.
“It’s not just something I hope, I believe it’s my responsibility.”