Sony Michel is proud of his Haitian heritage, and that pride was on full display on Dec. 8. For My Cause, My Cleats, Michel paid tribute to his roots and a young woman whose spirit and legacy lives on.
You cannot tell the story of Michel's cleats without first telling the story of Britney Gengel. As a student at Lynn University, Gengel went to Haiti in 2010 to volunteer at local orphanages and work with children. On Jan. 12, 2010, Gengel sent her mother a text saying how excited she was and how, eventually, she wanted to start her own orphanage in Haiti.
Just hours after sending that message, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, and Gengel was among the more than 300,000 killed in the disaster.
In the wake of tragedy, her family in Rutland, Mass., made her final message to them her lasting legacy, starting The Be Like Brit Foundation and opening an orphanage in Grand-Goâve. Now, 33 boys and 33 girls live in a home that was built on Gengel's dream, and Michel honored her life and the strength of Haitians through My Cause, My Cleats.
"A couple of their members actually showed up to some of my offseason events after they found out I was Haitian and wanted to do some work," he said. "I appreciated what they did after I got background information on what they did ... I just thought the cleats would be a good way to bring awareness to what they were doing."
His bright red cleats feature the Haitian flag, a drawing of the orphanage founded in Gengel's name and the phrase "Nou bouke," meaning "We're tired." The cleats also have the number 33 to signify the boys and girls at the orphanage, as well as the days it took to recover Gengel from the rubble.
Michel, whose parents moved to Florida from Haiti before he was born, still has family there, and the damage done in the 2010 earthquake was devastating beyond words. Having a platform through the football and the NFL, Michel wants to serve and help where he can, and that is something he can do to honor Gengel, too.
"The big picture is all about serving, just trying to make a difference, whether it's Be Like Brit," he said. "People need help, why not? It don't take much to make a difference. It's all about being willing to go out and do something."
You can bid on Michel's cleats on the NFL Auction's website.