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Obama praises Rashford in historic call

"An honour": Marcus Rashford met Barack Obama in a Zoom meeting from his kitchen to discuss youth activism, campaigns, and their shared love of reading.
Former US President Obama met England footballer Marcus Rashford to discuss their campaigning. Image: Verch Marco and Oleg Bkhambri/Creative Commons

Former US President Barack Obama has praised Marcus Rashford for his campaigning against poverty and child hunger in a video call between the pair, saying such people are “positive forces in their communities”.

Obama told the England and Manchester United striker, who became a champion for vulnerable people during the pandemic and forced two government u-turns,  that he was “way ahead of where I was” at that age.

Obama said: “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.”

The former President said that social movements often started with young people, with Rashford countering that they “don’t understand how powerful their voice is”.

The pair also considered their similarities, such as being raised by single mothers and their involvement in community projects.

Rashford reflected on the experience: “I mean, it’s quite surreal isn’t it? I’m sitting in my kitchen in Manchester, speaking to former President Obama. But immediately he made me feel at ease.

“It wasn’t long before I realised just how aligned our experiences as children were in shaping the men you see today – adversity, obstacles and all. I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it.”

The call was organised by publisher Penguin Books to discuss the first volume of Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, which came out in November 2020.

They discussed their love of reading and themes from the book, such as giving back to your local community.

Obama said he inherited his love of reading from his mother, whereas Rashford found that books had given him the freedom to follow his own ideas.

The conversation was moderated by broadcaster and author June Sarpong and will be released in full on Penguin UK’s YouTube channel at 2pm today.

Last year, Rashford led a prominent campaign to tackle child food poverty in the UK during the pandemic. His campaigning changed the government’s decision not to provide free school meals to children over the holiday. This led to 1.7 million vulnerable children receiving support from the government scheme and other projects, enabling the delivery of 130 million meals.