By Kharisma McIlwaine
Super Bowl LII champion, former Philadelphia Eagle and current Indianapolis Colts safety Rodney McLeod and his wife and fellow University of Virginia graduate Erika McLeod, have always had a heart for giving back.
In 2020, the dynamic husband and wife team founded the Change Our Future foundation. Change Our Future is a nonprofit organization with a mission to empower youth through education, advocacy, healthy lifestyles and community enrichment.
Change Our Future has two upcoming events — hosting the I Am Youth Leadership Summit on Tuesday, June 28 from 8 a.m.-5p.m. and the Second Annual Sneaker Ball on Thursday, July 7 at Vie. The McLeods spoke with the SUN about the inspiration behind the events and their goals for Change Our Future.
In April 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they founded Change Our Future with a very clear mission in mind.
“Change Our Future is an organization that Erika and I started simply because of our passion for kids and understanding that we want to be able to provide the necessary resources for the next generation believing that these kids are the change, that they are our future and that they matter,” Rodney said.
“With it starting [at the] start of the pandemic, it was a very unique start for us as a foundation,” Erika added. “We had to fill the gaps of where the need was vs. fulfilling the initial thought and mission that we had. So now, as the pandemic starts to decline a little, we get to really hone in on where we want to put our focus. The schools are open again, we can get into the schools. Instead of cherry-picking the need, that’s allowing us to focus on kids first, education and building out these opportunities and having amazing events like Sneaker Ball where we can actually meet with people and explain what our mission is.”
Providing opportunities through programming for youth, families and the community is one of Change Our Future’s primary focus areas.
“We want to be able to provide this sort of equality in specific areas and we think the best way to be able to do that is through mentorship, advocacy, through college and career aspiration and other educational programs,” Rodney said. “It’s great to be able (in a short amount of time) to feel like you’ve made an impact on so many people — specifically kids, but also families as well. It’s a great feeling to know what we set out to do in 2020 is coming to fruition and that we’re changing lives for the better.”
The I Am Youth Leadership Summit is a prime example of the mission of Change Our Future put into action.
“The I Am Youth Leadership Summit is targeting specifically rising 10th and 11th graders,” Erika said. “The purpose was for us to be able to bridge that gap between academic learning with skill sets to them (young people) being able to take the next steps in their career, whether it’s a job, interview, or externship. It’s putting the students in the room and helping them foster the skills and courage to allow them to use their confidence to be a better leader.”
“It’s important for us in terms of representation matters,” she continued. “Having Black and brown kids in front of other professionals in the city as their facilitators. It’s also encouraging to them that they can also be leaders in the communities. We have a few workshops that we’re hosting throughout the day from “What is a Leader?” to “Building Your Resume.” I think the biggest part about the day is allowing students to feel comfortable in their own skin and believing in the I Am affirmations.”
In addition to working on educational programs that incorporate the importance of life skills, Rodney and Erika are helping the youth through innovative fundraising events like The Sneaker Ball. Their first Sneaker Ball was held on December 6, 2021 and raised over $200,000.
“[The] Sneaker Ball came to creation by us sitting down and thinking of a way we could bring a large group of people together,” Rodney said. “We really looked at sneakers as that sole factor in being able to fill a room. There is such a large group of us that are into sneakers. We know how big the sneaker community is in general. We wanted this to feel like a high fashion event, but also a way to dress it down and add the sneaker element in. It’s a great conversation starter and a way for people to connect, build and get to know about what a lot of great people are doing within that room,”
“Now that we are bringing everyone together, the sole purpose is our mission, and that’s being able to come together in support of our next generation, putting our arms around them, letting them know that we’re by their side and we stand with them,” he said.
The Sneaker Ball this year will feature music by DJ Diamond Kuts, along with some of Rodney and Erika’s favorite sneakers, a sneaker activation within the Sneaker Museum and a tribute to the late Virgil Abloh and some of Abloh’s collection with Nike. The event will also collect donations in the form of school supplies and sneakers.
“We’ll bring school supplies to fill a backpack for school-age kids up to the 12th grade — that way we can help them get started for the year. Then also sneakers, because obviously it’s the Sneaker Ball,” Erika said with a laugh.
In addition to the work Rodney and Erika are doing through Change Our Future’s upcoming events, they will also be introducing the Next Man Up initiative this year. Next Man Up passes the torch from one generation to the next as a call to action to combat the systemic oppression that targets African American men specifically. This program seeks to give young men access to mentors who throughout the school year will help walk them through various aspects of life such as financial literacy, human behavior, philanthropy and mental health.
To register for the summit and to purchase tickets for The Sneaker Ball, visit: www.changeourfuture.org. Use the promo code SneakerBall22 for a discount when purchasing tickets for the event. If you are planning to attend the Sneaker Ball, be sure to bring a pair of sneakers and school supplies for school-aged children up to 12th grade. To keep up with Change Our Future, Rodney and Erika, follow them on Instagram @changeourfuturefund, @RodneyMcLeod4 and @Elee413xoxo, respectively.