Mechelle Merritt, Dorchester

Last year, when the world was looking ugly to her, Mechelle thought hard about how to bring some beauty back. The Bible helped. But it was something from Mechelle’s childhood that got her excited again: Double Dutch. She was convinced the sport would bring discipline and unity back into her community.

Here, in Mechelle’s own words, is how she created “Jump for Justice”:

“I had a low point in my life, about the end of last year. There was just a lot of things going on in the world, with all the racial tension and stuff like that, and I was just feeling like the weight of the world on my back. But I started reading the Bible. It brought more light to the situation. And all of a sudden, I felt like I should give back as much as possible.

So I started Jump for Justice. What gave me the idea to start the program is that there was a lot of kids in this neighborhood that come to Ripley Road to fight. I was thinking at one of the task force meetings I was at: What did we use to do when we were that age, back in the day?

I jumped Double Dutch for about 15 years, when I was a little girl. I also competed. So I was like: You know what? I’m gonna teach the kids Double Dutch. To give them a recreational sport to do to distract them, to get them off the phone, off the internet, and make them exercise more. So, I started to bring out the ropes.

Actually, it’s old school vinyl clothing lines. The first day I took them out was last year at the Ripley Road cookout. It was amazing. I had a 49-year-old lady jumping rope. She had a head full of grey hair. She jumped longer than everybody. Once you have a passion for that sport, you have it forever.

At first, the kids never even heard of Double Dutch. They were looking at the ropes like: What is that? I think I want to play, I don’t know, I’m kinda scared. I really had to warm them up to the sport. It can be kind of scary with two ropes swinging and you have to jump in. But once they seen me do it…Yes, I still can jump! I got out there and I jumped and jumped and jumped until I lost about fifteen pounds.

And they started to catch on. And then I started teaching them how to sing the songs. It was like a flashback to 1998, 1999. The kids started lovin’ it. They started knocking on my door everyday asking me for the ropes. So I started the program.

“Bringing the unity back into our community.” That’s my slogan for Jump for Justice. Basically, it consists of outdoor games: kickball, Double Dutch, dodge ball, hopscotch. We do tie dying, agriculture, we study plants, drumming, boxing—we do a lot. I’m out there 5-7, Monday through Friday. I love it.

So far I’ve got 10 kids. They range from age 5 to 14. I’m trying to teach them structure and obedience because this generation has gone out of control. Be respectable. Listen. How to mind their own business at the right time, cause these kids get into all kinds of stuff that, if they just mind their own business, it wouldn’t have happened. I teach them life skills, you know, cause it takes a village to raise kids.

So far it’s been working, the kids have been playing nicely with each other. They reacted pretty good to the structure. They’ve been unified more.

The only things I’ve been struggling with is the snacks. Every time we meet up, I have them run laps, and straight after, they jump into Double Dutch, then go boxing, and they work up a big appetite after all that. I need people to bring me some vegetables, watermelon, fruit, bottles of water. I’ve been holding it down pretty good outta pocket, but I’ve got to eat. I’m just patiently waiting for the city to help me. They been giving me calls saying they’re gonna help me, but they don’t understand, because when you live next door to the kids you are working with, it’s difficult. They seriously love their snacks.

This year I officially started Jump for Justice as a non-profit organization. I want to extend it to the schools and introduce them to the sport. It would give the kids a sense of purpose if they can compete and be successful. You never know how far they can go. They have Double Dutch competitions in Tokyo, Japan, all over the country.

I’m working on something else, too. I’m working to turn that front area—you know where the shrubs is?—I’m gonna turn that into a community garden. So on Sundays, I’m asking all the men to come out and help me pull up the shrubs cause I got the permission from the Mayor last year. I wrote the proposal for it, so now it’s just a matter of coming up with the supplies to do it. I don’t have any plot beds now or gardening tools or anything, but it’s all about the faith. I already started a tiny plot with the onions over there. They’re growing too!

And I’m doing a clothes drive—a ladies clothes drive. I know how it feels to go to high school and don’t have all the nice things. It makes you really don’t want to go. Kids can be mean. So if you have any old clothes at home, that you just know you’re not going to wear, that looks good- maybe you bought it too small, and you don’t want to throw it out because it’s brand new, you know that feeling- bring it to me. You can leave it on my front porch. I definitely have girls that can use it.”

If you’d like to drop off clothes, Mechelle lives at 20 Ripley Road in Dorchester (Unit 1). Mechelle was interviewed and photographed by story ambassador Gabbie Follett. The interview was then edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with Gabbie. Cara wrote the intro text.

Shelley