AACR Annual Meeting 2023: NFL Star Rodney McLeod and Erika McLeod Partner with AACR in Support of Cancer Research 

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) was thrilled to welcome Super Bowl Champion Rodney McLeod Jr. and Erika McLeod to the AACR Annual Meeting 2023 last month. The NFL safety and his wife, founders of the Change Our Future foundation, joined more than 21,000 researchers, physician-scientists, and advocates at the meeting to kick off a multi-year partnership between Change Our Future and the AACR.  

Rodney and Erika McLeod
Rodney McLeod Jr. and Erika McLeod address students during a special session for high school students interested in cancer science. Photo by © AACR/Matt Herp 2023

The McLeods established Change Our Future with the goal of inspiring young people and helping them grow through education and advocacy. To this end, Change Our Future has committed to funding numerous AACR programs and initiatives to develop the next generation of cancer researchers. These programs include the AACR Special Program for High School Students, held each year at both the AACR Annual Meeting and the AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities, and the AACR Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Travel Awards, which provide support for early-career cancer researchers to attend the AACR Annual Meeting. The 2023 AACR Minority Scholars in Cancer Research supported by Change Our Future are: 

  • Alexis E. Carey, a PhD candidate at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Carey is currently focused on improving outcomes for elderly patients with melanoma by studying age-specific immune responses to melanoma and the impact of aged bone marrow on antitumor response.  
  • Afia P. Ohemeng, MD, a PhD candidate at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Ohemeng is working toward integrating her clinical and laboratory skills to build a career in translational research.  
  • Dominique V. Parker, a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Parker’s current research explores how the expression of EphA2 in breast cancer impacts different cell types involved in bone homeostasis. 

Change Our Future will support these travel awards in future years as well—thereby giving promising graduate and medical students, residents, and clinical and postdoctoral fellows access to unparalleled opportunities for learning and networking with leaders in cancer research. 

During the Annual Meeting, the McLeods celebrated runners at the AACR Runners for Research 5K Run/Walk and provided inspiring remarks to students participating in the AACR Special Program for High School Students. 

Mitch Stoller with McLeods
Mitch Stoller, Chief Philanthropic Officer of the AACR, with Erika and Rodney McLeod Jr. Photo by © AACR/Todd Buchanan 2023

“Attending the AACR Annual Meeting—especially events like the 5K and the high school program—was emotional, yet encouraging,” said Erika McLeod. 

“To witness a sea of scientists, survivors, and community members all coming together in support of cancer research gave us hope that cures for the many cancers plaguing our communities will be found,” agreed Rodney.  

Like so many, the McLeods have been directly impacted by cancer. Rodney’s grandmother passed away from pancreatic cancer and Erika’s mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, to name just two examples. Watching their loved ones battle cancer has motivated their commitment to giving back, raising awareness about the importance of cancer research, and supporting the AACR.