As well as being a superstar for Manchester United and England, Marcus Rashford is using his platform to help others less fortunate than him.
Last year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Rashford led a campaign to end child food poverty and successfully lobbied the British government to continue providing free school meals during the holidays.
He also launched a book club to get disadvantaged children reading more earlier this year.
And the 23-year-old can count former US President Barack Obama as one of his admirers after all his hard work.
On a Zoom call organized by publishers Penguin, Obama hailed Rashford for being “a lot further ahead than I was at 23.”
“They’re already making changes and being positive forces in their communities” Obama said speaking about the young people he meets.
“Even if you do something positive on a small scale, that’s making a difference, and it’s the accumulation of people doing positive things over time that makes us a little bit better with each successive generation.”
Obama and Rashford were on the virtual meeting to discuss the impact young individuals can have on society.
They both spoke about the importance of people in prominent positions giving back to their local communities, as well as the positive impact reading can have, as it has on both their lives.
Rashford’s campaign to tackle child food poverty in the UK led to 1.7 million vulnerable children being supported by a $736 million (£520m) government scheme.
He’s done it at the same time as being one of Manchester United’s most pivotal players, helping it to second place in the Premier League and runner up in the Europa League.
Rashford was awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And for the 44th president of the United States, Rashford’s own personal experiences have helped him become an excellent example of someone with a position of prominence providing a service to those in need.
“From what I’ve read about what Marcus is doing,” Obama explained, “he’s taken his own experiences and realized: ‘Well, look, I’ve now been blessed. I now have the good fortune of being this prominent footballer and people pay attention to what I say. How do I give back? How do I take what I know about living in modest means, not having enough to eat all the time — there are kids like that who are feeling that same way — what can I do for them?’
“And like Marcus, we all find our own paths to that service. But if enough people do that, that’s how progress gets made.
“Marcus is a good example of somebody who was passionate at a sport, excelled in it, it gave him a platform and now he’s looking for new challenges alongside it with still being one of the best in his sport.”
Besides his professional football career, Rashford has spent a large amount of time in his community in an effort to help build up the confidence of the next generation; something he’d wished he’d had when he was younger.
“I see in the younger kids that they are a lot more confident, they speak a lot more freely,” he said.
“And I just want to promote that really. Protecting the next generation, and what I mean by that is let’s give them the voice that they actually have because a lot of the time, they do have voice but they don’t understand how powerful their voice is and how powerful their opinions are.
“So a lot of the time, I’m just there to listen, and I always try to make changes and try and do things that my community wants just to give them a little push in the right direction. I genuinely feel like if you give someone a helping hand, at a young age, they’ll go on to do things even they didn’t think or believe was achievable to accomplish.”
The power of reading
Obama and Rashford both cite their love of reading as a primary driver in their personal development.
For Obama, his mother was the one who “implanted” the love for reading at a young age. He also recalls a church rummage sale, where he obtained a large number of books which he read and grew to fall in love with.
However, for Rashford, his introduction to reading came a lot later.
He remembers being given a book by a psychologist when he was about 17 years old and discovering his passion for reading then.
And as a footballer, with a lot of down time in between games and training, there is no better way to keep your mind active, according to the United star.
“For me being in sport, I knew my life could change very, very quickly, and if I knew I wasn’t mature enough or at a certain level in my own head, then it makes fame and bits like that even more difficult to cope with,” Rashford — who describes it as “surreal” talking to the former U.S. President — said.
“I got a book passed to me by a psychologist, that was the first book I ever read. And just from then, I started learning through books, you can grow yourself in whichever way you want. And for me, as the type of person I am, rather than somebody keep telling me to do this or do that, books allow me to do it my own way.”