Marcus Rashford, at 23 years of age, is a Manchester United footballer, but more than that, he’s a man of action. A gentleman with a cause.
Born in 1997 in Manchester, England, he has West Indian heritage with his grandmother born on the island of Saint Kitts. He has two older brothers and two older sisters, all raised by single mother Melanie Maynard.
He began playing football at the age of five, and joined the Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) academy at the age of seven. After playing in the youth league, his first game in the professional European league was in 2016 where he scored two goals, making him MU’s youngest ever goal scorer in a European competition. Three days later, he made his English Premier League debut against Arsenal, and again scored twice.
His first trophy was the Football Association (FA) Cup Final against Chrystal Palace in 2016, where MU won 2-1. He won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year and signed with Manchester United until 2020. In July 2019, he signed a new contract with MU to 2023.
Outside of football, 2020 became Marcus Rashford’s best year. And his best is continuing. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the football season was halted for three months from March to May. During this time, Marcus, already involved in charity work, teamed with FareShare to deliver meals to Manchester homes where children were no longer receiving free school meals.
In June 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson abolished food stamps which replaced the free canteen for vulnerable families during the summer school holidays. Rashford took action. He started an awareness campaign on social media and quickly managed to get the Johnson’s Conservative government to take a turning point – a U-turn. This was a major success, a goal for vulnerable kids. However, the government said that the estimated 188 million euros would only be used to provide food stamps for the provision of free meals during the summer holidays. When school resumed, the free food distribution would cease.
Queen Elizabeth II awarded Marcus Rashord with the title of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his charity efforts. But Rashford realized that the pandemic crisis and child hunger were still present in the poorest households. He launched a petition to the Prime Minister to “end child poverty: no child should be hungry.” He expected a million signatures.
The million signatures were quickly exceeded. Major brands, employees, civil servants, local politicians, and traders were mobilized, sometimes providing meals themselves to children in need, following Rashford’s lead.
Prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that 30% of children were already living below the poverty line. With the pandemic, it was estimated that 32% of households have lost income since the beginning of 2020. As a child in the Wythenshawe district of south Manchester, Rashford experienced the difficulties of everyday life with his mother and felt a mission to take action: to combat child poverty. “My mother is happy today that we are talking about this problem and that people like me are helping others,” he said.
More than a football hero to children and vulnerable familiies, Marcus Rashford has become the hero of a nation. Artist Akse dedicated a mural to him in Manchester, while other football clubs praised his initiatives.
After engaging in the face-to-face fight against food insecurity and child poverty with the British goverment, Marcus Rashford is again taking action. He is embarking on a new struggle: providing children with sustainable access to education through reading. In the midst of England’s economic and health crisis, he understands that the need continues.
Rashford is starting a book club project. In association with Macmillan Children’s Books, the Marcus Rashford Book Club will provide books to promote reading and literacy among young people from all walks of life.“I didn’t start reading until I was 17, and it completely changed my outlook and mentality. I wish I had the opportunity to read more as a child, but books never fitted in the household budget. We had to put food on the table first,” he said.
Through the partnership, Rashford plans to release several books dedicated to tolerance or culture. “There were times when escaping through reading could really have helped me.I want this escape for all kids.Not just to those who can afford it.We know that there are now more than 380,000 children across the UK who have never owned a book.They are children living in vulnerable environments.That has to change.”
Rashford embodies the values of solidarity and charity for disadvantaged neighbourhoods from where he came. “I will fight for the rest of my life for vulnerable children.”