By Afea Tucker
Philadelphia Eagles safety and team captain, Rodney McLeod Jr., and his wife Erika are taking their philanthropy efforts to new heights.
“We’re really excited about the event that’s coming up on Monday. It’s going to be a fashionable philanthropy styled event, where we’re going to have guests dressed up to the nines,” said Erika McLeod, co-founder of Change Our Future (COF).
The McLeods will host a first of its kind “Art & Sole” Sneaker Ball in Center City Philadelphia, Dec. 6 at the Arts Ballroom, as an effort to collect toys and sneakers for local families and to kick off their 12 days of Christmas giving.
“This is your chance to dress up after 18 months in a pandemic and be around other notable figures, professionals, and wear your favorite sneakers,” Erika said.
The live and silent auction will include more than $100,000 worth of memorabilia, including Jack Daniels sneakers, a Breakfast at Tiffany’s experience, a W Hotel spa package, an Acro lesson, a Patron experience, and more.
“Our Sneaker Ball fundraiser will be a pivotal moment since our foundation’s inception. This annual event will not only educate our guests on the positive impact our programs have on the community, but also allow them to connect with our overall mission to empower youth,” added Rodney, who is a Super Bowl LII champion.
Their inaugural sneaker ball is one of several events and initiatives the McLeods have spearheaded to support and aid children and young adults in the tri-state area.
“[After] this past year of COVID, we just hit the ground running and are really just inserting ourselves into the community and saying, hey, we’re here to tackle anything that the community needs and that the community is asking us to do. But moving forward, we want to be very specific and get back to our true mission at hand,” Rodney said.
The couple founded “Change Our Future,” a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering youth through education, advocacy, and developmental programs.
“Change Our Future” focuses on advancing underserved communities with educational services and programs,” Erika said. “We’re excited to be able to share the continuous momentum and the growth of the foundation with our community partners at the Sneaker Ball event.”
Over the course of its inception, COF launched numerous campaigns ranging from a fundraising initiative to help defeat cancer to “My Choice, My Vote,” a campaign encouraging people to take a personal stake in the upcoming elections.
“When we started “Change our Future,” it really came from a place of passion and care and love for our community,” Rodney said.
Although his wife Erika grew up in New York and Rodney has roots in the DMV area, the couple are deeply invested in the city of Philadelphia and its future.
“Since we’ve arrived here in Philadelphia, this feels like home to us. And I think the one thing that Erika and I share dearly is our passion for kids, and our passion for education and healthcare. So we tried to find a way to be able to bring that into one. For us, that’s putting kids first and empowering the youth to do and be better,” Rodney said.
The Super Bowl champ further shares that he believes that a lot of ways to empower young people stem from educational programs.
“And us just being overall champions — I think of development of programs and creating opportunities that give those young people an advantage but specifically, young Black and brown kids that look just like Erika and I. We understand the resources we were afforded at a young age, and unfortunately, that doesn’t exist in a lot of these underserved communities, the areas that we’re trying to address and bridge the gap between the disparities in education and health care,” he continued.
This year’s “Art & Sole” Sneaker Ball is geared to bring more awareness to the work of the COF foundation in addition to being a relief for both guests and those who will benefit from the McLeods’ philanthropic efforts.
“It’s going to be fun and light hearted,” Erika said.
The event is expected to bring joy to the city and deliver lots of holiday cheer, featuring a one-of-a-kind pop-up sneaker museum showcasing some of the rarest, classic, and exclusive sneakers donated by local boutiques, this annual fundraising event celebrating sneaker culture will set the tone for the foundation’s annual 12 Days of Christmas Campaign.
“This holiday season and every holiday season, it’s that opportunity to be around family. It’s that excitement and the cheer and the smile that you hope to see on the children’s faces. It’s gathering and sharing good times with the ones that love you. And for us here at “Change Our Future” and Rodney and myself. Being that children are first, we want to make sure that in any way we can help out and bring those smiles and bring that a little bit of happiness we do so,” Erika said.
During last year’s 12 Days of Christmas campaign, the McLeods delivered food to families, lunch to healthcare heroes and were able to donate toys in the past in addition to helping families shop for the holidays.
“And the sneaker ball is giving us that opportunity to involve the community, for others to be able to bring toys for all ages, and to bring sneakers,” Erika said. “Being that sneakers is what’s bringing us together for that night. It’s a season of giving. We hope to turn around the stories so you get to start hearing some of the happier stories from these communities,”
“Students right now, they’ve gone through so much adversity from having to change how they’re learning,” she continued. “Being in the classroom to learning online, to not traveling and seeing their friends. And if a small gift like this can put a smile on their faces, we want it to be in abundance. So we’re hoping that from this event, not only are we bringing awareness to the greatest need right now, which is the youth needing us. We’re hoping to bring a little bit of spark to their holiday and invite others in the community. To say that we stand with you. We want to grow this out together in numbers. We want to be stronger and make a greater and lasting impact in the community. I would love to help. It’s a call to action for others to get involved. And I think that’s why we’re really excited to see the faces and those that have supported us along the way and those who are who are looking to learn more about us this Monday coming up.”
For Rodney, he understands that football will not last forever and he ultimately wants to create a legacy founded in service.
“I play this great sport that God has blessed me to be a part of for the past 10 years and been fortunate enough to win a Super Bowl, which is great, and a lot of people are going to remember me especially here in Philadelphia for that reason, but football has always been temporary,” offered Rodney. “Knowing that it will have an end date. I tried to make the most impact that I can within the time span that I’ve been given. I want people to know most about me and Erica as well, is the fact that we’re for the people and we’re for our community,”
“Art & Sole” Sneaker Ball tickets are available online at changeourfuture.org. Use promo code cof50sun for a special discount.