By Jennifer McGraw, Sports Talk Philly Contributor
From undrafted free agent to Super Bowl LII champion, Rodney McLeod, along with his wife Erika McLeod, co-founder of the Change Our Future Foundation, work hard to give back to the youth in the Tri-State area.
Though Rodney is an exceptionally talented player on the field, with 426 career tackles and 154 assists, his charitable work with his wife is just as amazing.
Rodney McLeod landed in the NFL in 2012 when he signed with the St. Louis Rams. He discussed how the opportunity was both humbling and hard because of the uncertainty of how long an undrafted football player might be on a team.
Regardless of the circumstances, Rodney and Erika’s love of giving back to the community started in St. Louis.
“It started in the community there, getting involved, that’s something that was always apart of Erika and I,” said Rodney, on discussing Erika and his inspiration for giving back. “Because of who we are and how we both were raised, we just wanted to get out and make a difference.”
Four years later, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the rest is history. In his second year with the team, the Eagles won Super Bowl LII.
Rodney discussed his excitement for coming to Philadelphia. He was able to be closer with his family in Maryland, as well as closer to Erika while she was working. He also noted that his hard work and drive propelled him into success in just a short period of time in the city of brotherly love.
“Every year is precious, every snap is precious, the probability that you’re injured or even the chances that you make a playoff game or even a Super Bowl, so many people failed and I’m thankful to be able to bring the first one to Philly.” said Rodney, reflecting on the significance of Super Bowl LII.
Upon coming to Philadelphia, the McLeods found motivation in elevating the voices of those in underserved communities. Erika talked about the encouraging factors that helped them start the foundation. Educational inequality, lack of school funding, lack of career resources, leaders and mentors are all problems that the McLeods want to create solutions for.
“Now, we have our foundation that we recently started and we’re proud to bring attention to the issues that matters most to us and the footprints we want to leave behind,” Rodney said.
The Change Our Future Foundation was started in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic by the McLeods to combat the issues that youth in the tri-state area face. Some of these issues stem from barriers in healthcare and education.
The foundation empowers people through education, advocacy and awareness in the areas of youth development, healthy lifestyles and community enrichment.
One of the initiatives that the couple started as apart of their foundation is called “Game Changers.” This initiative allowed for kids affected by different social justice issues to be at the forefront of the conversation and express what concerned them the most.
Rodney mentioned that this conversation is where he and Erika try to create solutions for the problems the kids expressed. Knowing that they might not have the answer, they still wanted to find plausible solutions and involve the kids at the same time.
“Unfortunately, some of these kids are seeing this happen to a neighbor or a block or two down from them here in Philadelphia and it’s sad and it’s disturbing,” said Rodney, discussing the prevalent gun violence issue in the city.
“What keeps me encouraged is that they want to get out and do something about it, they want to use their voice for good, and that’s why Game Changers is so powerful.” he continued.
One event the McLeods are excited to host this year is the Sneaker Ball.
The Sneaker Ball is a night out where attendees can come together, network, socialize, and give back to the community. In this event where fashion meets philanthropy, the Sneaker Ball will have a toy and sneaker drive where the items will be donated to local families in need.
Erika talked about how the start of the pandemic meant little socializing and Zoom calls being the new normal, so seeing how a Sneaker Ball is popular in other cities, she and Rodney knew it would be great to have in Philadelphia.
“Everyone has a favorite pair of sneakers. Women love the idea that they don’t have to wear heels,” said Erika, discussing some of the highlights of the fashionable event. “It’s this opportunity to get dressed up and, for our Sneaker Ball, it’s to learn more about what Change Our Future has been up to for the past year.”
This event will have a sneaker museum, a live and silent auction, a taste of Philadelphia experience and, most importantly, the toy and sneaker drive. The McLeods want this event to be a call-to-action for what they have done and continue to do in the organization.
Though Rodney and Erika started their careers and volunteer efforts elsewhere, the city of brotherly love holds close to their heart for not only their foundation, but their lives.
“Since we arrived here in Philly it felt like home and been family to us and opened us with open arms and we’ve done the same,” Rodney said. “I think, for me, I always wanted to be viewed as more than just an athlete and not just labeled by my jersey number… that’s part of the legacy that I wanna leave.”
The Sneaker Ball will be on Monday, December 6, 2021, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the Arts Ballroom located at 1324 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA.