The Holiday Spirit: Giving Back to Kids in Need12/16/2013
University of Akron graduate student Micklos Blake knows firsthand what it means to grow up without having one of life's most basic needs — a pair of shoes for school and play. A native of Jamaica who moved to New York City when he was 9, Blake understands that not having a simple item like shoes — which many take for granted — is a huge obstacle to a child's success. So this holiday season and for as long as it takes, Blake is giving back to children who are less fortunate, through not only collecting and donating hundreds of pairs of much-needed shoes, but also taking the time to mentor and encourage local youngsters to aim high in life.
Micklos Blake with two of the Jamaican youngsters who have new shoes, thanks to FreshSouls.
In December 2012, the former Akron Zips football player launched FreshSouls, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes new and gently-worn shoes to young children living in impoverished areas of Akron and worldwide. One of the charity's first endeavors took Blake and his team to Jamaica in July 2013, distributing 1,000 pairs of shoes and providing basic school supplies such as pens, pencils and notebooks to children.
Blake himself recalls the dirt, rusty nails and glass splinters that cut and bruised his feet as a child walking barefoot outdoors every day in his native country. But he refused to let any obstacle stand in his way of becoming a success in life.
Repairing souls with soles
As he begins work on a master's degree in public administration and urban studies at UA next semester — he already holds a bachelor's degree in business and organizational communication and received his first master's degree in sports administration at UA this month — Blake says his childhood experiences are never far from his mind as he works to ensure children, locally and worldwide, have a pair of shoes to play in and walk to school in every day. Today, he lives by the guiding principles of FreshSouls — education/scholarship, athletics and spirituality — which he passes on to the children he meets.
"How can children dream of their futures when they don't even have a good pair of shoes to wear to school?” Blake asks. "Kids — and their educations — are our future. When poverty-stricken parents here and around the world have to choose between feeding their families, or buying their children a new pair of shoes, or sending them to school, it's just not right.
"But unfortunately, some parents have to do just that," Blake continues. "The goal of FreshSouls is to make a difference in kids' lives and repair the souls of children, one pair at a time."
UA graduate student Micklos Blake visits with some of the Jamaican youngsters who have new shoes through his nonprofit organization, FreshSouls.
In February 2014, Blake and FreshSouls team members Rosheeda Bryant and Tiarrah Kent will travel to Mexico to continue the work they started in Jamaica and also in Akron, where the organization recently donated 30 pairs of athletic shoes and other equipment to football players at Akron East High School so they could participate in their first home game of the 2013 season. FreshSouls focuses on assisting children ranging in age from 2-18.
Paying it forward
Blake also has recruited several UA student-athletes to his cause. Each Thursday during the semester, he and members of the football team donate their time to tutor and mentor children at Akron Public Schools' Leggett Community Learning Center. Blake says their goal is to encourage children to push themselves further than they think they can go.
"Those of us who go to Leggett every Thursday have had similar childhoods and basic needs, so the kids relate to us," Blake says. "We've been blessed with athletic talent, and that helped bring us to college. But there's only so far athletics can take you. You have to be an educated, well-rounded person to succeed in life. That's what we try to teach the kids at Leggett and every child we meet here in Akron and around the world."
Story by Tyeal Howell
Media contact: Laura Massie, 330-972-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.