Though he’ll be on another team next season, Rodney and Erika McLeod are holding the Philadelphia community close for their continued work with their “Change Our Future” foundation.
The co-founders of the organization are excited for the future of “Change Our Future,” especially as it starts to expand to other cities, but the McLeods wanted to keep the love of their work where it all started: in the city of brotherly love, a place the couple called home for six years.
The foundation took flight in 2020 when the co-founders envisioned programs in Philadelphia that would help address the issues the youth face, such as barriers in education and career resources. The foundation also works to provide health and wellness resources, youth development, and community empowerment.
Rodney and Erika loved giving back early on in the years that Rodney played in St. Louis, and doing the same for Philadelphia gave them the opportunity to be acquainted with fans, colleagues and the community.
One of the events they recently held was the “I Am” Youth Leadership Summit at the Community College of Philadelphia. This event gave high school students an opportunity to learn what it means to be a leader and effectively network with their peers.
“Change Our Future is about advocacy through education, advocacy through awareness and opportunity and showing and paving the way for putting kids first. This is our first step this is our first program using this as a youth summit we’re very excited.” Erika said.
The important aspect of the summit focused on the “I am” being a positive affirmation to “I am a leader” and “I am ready to take on these next steps.”
The event had hours of effective leadership and business workshops to gear students toward becoming their own leaders in the community. This led to a networking session where the students could take the skills they learned and put them to use.
An event that crosses fashion and philanthropy to gain major support for Change Our Future is the Sneaker Ball. This sneaker gala, which started last year, brings the community together to continue spreading the message about Change Our Future and how to build on the progress that has already been made.
““It’s a great night to bring people with high fashion, high energy, but more importantly people who are for the cause and for the mission at hand and as I stated earlier that’s really focusing on our next generation forming the generation of leaders to come. The leaders of change. The difference-makers,” Rodney said.
“We want to be able to play our role and address that and understand that we have to do this together. It takes a community of individuals, like-minded individuals, to really inflict the change that we’re all seeking,” he said.
Because they were, and are, a huge part of keeping not only Philadelphia but the nation together during the pandemic, Erika emphasized the importance of giving back to the educators and healthcare heroes as well.
“Rodney and I are just really passionate about serving the community, serving Philadelphia, a place that he called home. Now having that connection with the students and really being the change that the community needs to see, that we care about the youth, that we care about the people that are in it, we want to see them succeed.” Erika said.
“So we really hope that people can jump on our train and support our mission in making these changes in the community so that we can see our youth take it to the next step and succeed,” she said.
Last year, their inaugural Sneaker Ball raised over $203,000. The money went towards benefitting the Philadelphia youth and their future, which started with education and advocacy efforts.
“I think for us we are very humbled by what we were able to receive last year from so many gracious people of the Philadelphia community and it speaks to the hearts and minds of so many out here who are passionate about the same things that Erika and I are standing up for and addressing,” Rodney said.
Though the Change Our Future co-founders are looking for that same support again this year, they are just as thankful for the opportunity to host an event where like-minded people can connect and continue helping Change Our Future grow.
Rodney talked about how they like to continue sharing the mission, but want to highlight what last year’s funds did for the city and how they’ll continue to help in 2022. The “I Am” Youth Leadership Summit and Rodney’s “Next Man Up” men’s mentorship program were just two of the programs that were started thanks to the support.
The “Next Man Up” program will address the systemic gaps that have existed in the Black community, specifically with men. Having the male role models for the younger generation of guys to look up to will help them grow and thrive in areas like financial literacy, entrepreneurship and even just life choices.
“There’s just so many exciting things that we have been building as a team that we internally are really excited for Change Our Future to kick off. There’s a lot of hope behind the experiences we’ve had so far in Philadelphia, the impact we are starting to see that we’re making.” Erika said. I think that is really, really heartwarming to see that not only what they came to was a gala that could’ve been just a snooze fest, they came and had a lot of fun and helped us raise money while doing it,”
Being able to help others grow means making sure you can help yourself first. As a football player, it is both a physically and mentally demanding job. Rodney shared why it’s important to not only highlight well-being in terms of the programs Change Our Future is creating, but also just for the community at large.
“I think it’s huge that we recognize us as men and everybody to tap in and be more health-conscious when it comes to your overall wellbeing, mentally and physically.” Rodney said. “Maybe for some it’s meditation, maybe for others it’s speaking to a therapist regularly. Maybe it’s just taking time for yourself,”
As Men’s Health Month recently passed, Rodney talked about how men are often painted as “alphas” and taught that emotions are hard to express because of it, even eluding to working on it himself. He said that there is never a bad time to ask for help if you need it and to really lean on your support system. These tips would allow for more men to pave the way for others to ask for help.
The same ideology follows through with athletes. Rodney talked about how to balance being viewed by media as both an athlete, but also a person.
“We still have a family, we go back to our homes, I think for us, as athletes, it’s just really tapping in to and trying to find a way to separate the two between what I do for my career and who I am off the field. I think it’s key that you have that balance in your life.” Rodney said.
With the Sneaker Ball being tomorrow, July 7, it was only fitting to finish the interview by asking about the McLeods’ favorite type of shoes.
Rodney loves Jordan’s and dunks, eluding to some of the classic types of shoes. Erika loves Nike Air Max and high-top runners, something both “comfortable and cute.”
Change Our Future will continue to pave the way for the next generation to come up and become leaders and change-makers in the community. Their work will continue tomorrow night from 7-10 p.m. at the Vie by Cescaphe for the second annual Sneaker Ball and school supply drive.
“We’re a family at Change Our Future, we want to encourage more people to get involved to find their passions through maybe one of the programs that we’re offering,” Erika said.
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