ormer US president Barack Obama and England footballer Marcus Rashford, who campaigns against child food poverty, have shared how books inspired them to get involved in community service.
June Sarpong hosted the Zoom meeting on behalf of their publisher, Penguin.
- Barack Obama meets Marcus Rashford: In conversation
Described by June Sarpong as “a national treasure… one of the country’s greatest campaigners,” Marcus Rashford, “spent last year campaigning on food poverty raising more than £20 million for the charity FareShare, and successfully persuading the government to change their policy on free school meals.”
Barak Obama’s presidential memoirs A Promised Land, discuss how important community activism is.
He said on the call, “I didn’t start off with the thought that I was going to end up being the President of the United States. If I’d had more talent I’d have preferred to be an athlete like Marcus.
“Being a black man of mixed race, this unusual upbringing, didn’t have a father at home, raised by a single mother, sometimes, in fairly modest circumstances, it became clear to me as young man that my own story had to be tied to something bigger than myself.
“There were forces around me. Whether it was forces of class or race or people taking advantage of other people, or a society not caring for its children… these were all issues that affected me and I had some responsibility to make my voice heard.
“Volunteering helped me grow tremendously and serves young people well”
“What I’ve read of Marcus is he’s taken his own experience and he’s realised… 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 feeling that same way, what can I do for them?
“If enough people do that, that’s how things move forward. It’s a matter of you taking the risk, taking the chance that you can make a difference.
“It’s good for your soul to be out in the community and interact with people who aren’t just your usual mates and family… working in communities makes you stronger and enriches your life.
“The value of volunteering for an organisation, getting involved in a community issue, interacting with people of different generations, that helped me grow tremendously, and serves young people well.
“The purpose of the Obama Foundation is to work with young leaders… what I try to counsel is patience. When you start dealing with issues like hunger in communities or conflict in certain countries or big environmental issues like climate change – these take years, sometimes decades to have a big impact.
“Allowing kids to dream is the big thing”
“Young people get frustrated when things don’t happen overnight. Here in United States on matters of injustice it’s a righteous and justifiable impatience, after some of the things they’ve seen after the George Floyd murder. You can’t let impatience turn into cynicism or discouragement. It’s the accumulation of people doing positive things over time that makes us a little bit better with each successive generation.”
Marcus Rashford, who has launched his own book club encouraging young people to read, and is publishing a book, You are a Champion, said, “Books allowed me to do it my own way… as long as it’s taking my mind somewhere it’s not been before I feel like as a person I’m still growing.
“Allowing kids to dream is the big thing. If you give someone a helping hand at a young age they’ll do things they didn’t believe could be accomplished.”
With TV chef Tom Kerridge, Marcus Rashford is also offering free recipes and cooking tips for affordable, healthy meals, as part of his campaign against food poverty.
The 23-year-old was awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children during the Covid-19 pandemic.