By: Jeff Perlman Editor-in-Chief
He was a sharecropper’s son who devoted his life to public service.
He was one of a kind and he should not be forgotten.
Sgt. Matthew “Bump” Mitchell passed away last month.
If you’ve been around Delray for any length of time, you’ll know who he is. But life is fast paced these days and if you’re new to town there’s a chance you might not know who Sgt. Mitchell was and that’s just not right.
Because this was a man who touched thousands of lives. This was a role model for generations of local children and one the pillars of Delray Beach. He should not be forgotten. And he won’t be.
Many knew him as a police officer. Others as a minister. Still others as a coach and mentor.
Bump—as he was known—was all that and more.
Although he was born in Quitman, Georgia and considered himself a Georgia Peach, he spent all but three years of his life in Delray Beach molding young people, mentoring police officers, coaching athletes and looking after his flock as a charismatic minister.
To me, Sgt. Mitchell was larger than life.
By the time I met him 1987, he was already a local legend with the city having declared a “Bump Mitchell Day” in 1986.
I rode with him as a young reporter and at first I think he barely tolerated my presence, but Bump was just feeling me out, taking my measure as they say. When he saw that I was committed to his adopted town, he took a liking to me and I found him to be an enormous resource for me when I was elected to the City Commission in 2000. He was there for all the tough times, with words of advice and encouragement—always a calming, strong influence during some turbulent days.
Bump grew up west of town, with cattle and farm animals. He talked to me about unpaved roads and reminded those of us on the commission—in a gentle way—that there was no place for unpaved roads in the city proper. That was Bump’s way of telling us to pave roads in the southwest section of Delray. And we did. We expedited those projects.
While he had a long and distinguished career with the Delray Beach Police Department, working as a detective, a sergeant and as a mentor to young people he was equally well-known as a tough but fair coach for the legendary Delray Rocks football program.
He commanded respect on and off the field and guided generations of young men on the pitfalls of life if they made poor choices.
Later, I saw him a few times preach from the pulpit of Christ Missionary Baptist Church where he delivered powerful sermons and looked after his congregation with love and affection. He was also a chaplain for the Police Department where he dealt with some very serious issues—especially in the 80s and 90s, when crime was rampant in Delray and the department struggled to gain the confidence of the community.
Ultimately, the department forged good relations with residents and business owners and it made a huge difference.
There is no Delray Beach– at least as we know it–without our Police Department and it was officers like Matthew “Bump” Mitchell who made all the difference by going consistently above and beyond.
From mentoring children and intervening in tough situations to walking neighborhoods with residents and old fashioned police work , our department rose to the occasion and made this place safe for investment; made it a safe place to live, because there were times in the 80s when that was a real question.
We are not perfect and there is still too much crime, but compared to the 80s, it’s night and day a better place. It’s a better place because of committed officers like Matthew “Bump” Mitchell.
They don’t do it for the money–because the compensation isn’t that great, especially when you consider the toll and the risk, both physical and emotional. The best ones–and Sgt. Mitchell was most definitely in that category–do it because they have a love for the community, a feel for people, a desire to serve and beyond tough facades hearts that yearn to help people. As a detective known for his work with juveniles, Bump helped countless kids and taught many officers how to do so as well.
At the Community Foundation, there is a scholarship set up in Pastor Mitchell’s name.
On that page is a brief description of the man and some testimonials too.
There are two testimonials from two other Delray Beach legends—former Mayor Leon Weekes and teacher, coach, civil rights leader C. Spencer Pompey. Both were influential and consequential men.
Here’s what they said about Bump Mitchell.
“Bump Mitchell is as dedicated an individual as I’ve ever known in dealing with the youth of Delray Beach. I’ve known him for 25 years, and he’s always been available to help kids, whether it be in delinquency matters, athletics, counseling, even to the point of taking children into his own home. He’s a jewel in our community. I wish we had more people like him.”
–Leon Weekes, Former Mayor, Delray Beach
“I don’t know anyone who has contributed more to the well-being of our society than Bump Mitchell. He was quarterback on Carver’s 1954 championship team and one of the truly great athletes we’ve had there. Bump was truly versatile, lettering in football, baseball and track. Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his work in the community with the Rocks Football Team. He was honored a few years ago by our church as the recipient of the citizen of the year award, and is truly one of our most outstanding citizens of the last 30 years.”
-C. Spencer Pompey, Teacher and Coach.
Two legends speaking of another.
Matthew “Bump” Mitchell will be missed, but surely never forgotten.