Rodney and Erika McLeod pose for pictures with Jennifer and Darius "Big Play" Slay. – Photo / Jennifer McGraw
By Jennifer McGraw, Sports Talk Philly Contributor
Trade the heels and dress shoes with Air Force 1’s and the “snooze-fest” presentations with dancing the night away. That’s what you’d expect at the second annual “Sneaker Ball: Art and Sole” staple event hosted by the Change Our Future foundation on July 7, 2022, at the Vie by Cescaphe.
Change Our Future is a foundation started by former Eagles safety, Rodney McLeod, alongside his wife, Erika. The foundation focuses on empowering Philadelphia youth through education, advocacy and a particular focus on becoming leaders and game-changers through the power of affirmations.
Guests arrived Thursday evening in their best attire, complimented with their freshest pair of sneakers, to walk the red carpet before making their way to the festivities.
Where last year’s inaugural sneaker ball was also a toy drive, this year’s was a school supply drive.
The event had a little something for everyone. There was a sneaker museum, photo opportunities and basketball hoops. DJ Diamond Kuts, “Yo! MTV Raps” Host, kept the dance floor electric all night. People had the chance to network with each other and even meet a few special guests, like Eagles players, Jalen Hurts and Darius Slay, and former Eagles running back, Brian Westbrook.
“It means a lot,” said Slay, on what it means to support his fellow teammate and his foundation “Being together, playing together, being one of my close friends. It’s a great opportunity to come out here and support. He did it last year, I told him I’d do it again, for sure without a doubt, and they always turn out with a great event.”
Eagles offensive tackle, Jordan Mailata stepped up big and donated a big container of school supplies and money to keep the Change Our Future mission alive.
Guests also enjoyed the silent auction, which featured many different prizes ranging from signed jerseys to great vacation trips.
As the night went on, Rodney and Erika welcomed everyone and gave thanks to those who contributed to the foundation thus far. Two of the programs that have been established due to last year’s $203,000 donation are the “I Am” Youth Leadership Summit and Rodney’s “Next Man Up” men’s mentorship program.
“Tonight is just about growth, tonight is about, honestly, the people in this room who helped us get to this point today,” Rodney said. “Tonight is about celebrating how far we come just in that short span of time with the support of everybody that’s in this room, whether they supported us in the past or just getting to know us now. It feels good when the community is behind your mission and what you stand for,”
The “I Am” Youth Leadership Summit was held on June 28 at the Community College of Philadelphia. The event catered toward building leaders in the community. One of the best messages the McLeods shared was the power of positive affirmations, something Erika wore on her dress for the evening.
“The summit was amazing. We were able to host 40 kids for our first inaugural “I Am” Youth Leadership Summit. It was so impactful to see the difference of me asking ‘Who feels like they are a leader?’ in the beginning of the summit versus the affirmations we had them all write about themselves at the very end.” Erika said.
“We let them be their authentic self so encouraging them to use positive affirmations to tell their stories was very, very important to us so I am wearing the “I am” affirmations because I think it’s something that if you continue to tell yourself if you believe in yourself that you can, then you can do it,” Erika said, talking about her equally impactful and beautiful attire.
This year, the Change Our Future co-founders gave out awards to particular individuals in the community who made significant contributions to their communities. The Change Our Future co-founders even invited some of the students from the “I Am” Youth Leadership Summit to present the awards to the recipients.
Connor Barwin, Lloyd Freeman, Dr. Safiyya S. Shabazz, MD. and Dr. Mpasi were all presented with a Game Changer award, an award given to those who each made impactful contributions to their communities.
Two Changing Lives Awards, presented to individuals in the education field for their impact on inspiring young leaders, were given to Brittni Jenkins, an African American history teacher at Constitution High School and Sharahn Santana, the Director of Peace and Social Justice Academy at Parkway Northwest High School.
Following the awards was the fundraising part of the night. Change Our Future had a set goal of $150,000, and just like last year, the foundation was able to raise more than that to continue building on the programs that were implemented.
Change Our Future will live on in Philly, even with Rodney suiting up for the Indianapolis Colts this season. Both Erika and he expressed how important it is to not only donate money but also time as well.
“I think the purpose of the night is to talk about now how we have these programs and how impactful it can be with your help. We’re going to continue to build more programs with your help. We want people to be apart. It’s one thing to support our event financially, but it’s another thing to also get involved. Be not only advocates but your actions and give your time.” Rodney said.
For more information or where to donate, check out the Change Our Future Foundation website.