The former president teamed up with Marcus Rashford of Manchester United to discuss child poverty and their similar upbringings


Barack Obama is looking to empower young people with the help of Manchester United and England soccer star Marcus Rashford.

"I didn't start off with the thought that I was going to end up being the president of the United States, or make policy for my country," Obama, 59, told Rashford, 23, in a virtual meeting organized by Penguin Books, which was uploaded onto YouTube Friday.

"If I had had more talent, I would have probably preferred to have been a professional athlete like Marcus, but I wasn't strong, fast, quick enough or gifted enough," he added. "For me it was basketball. That was my true love."

"[But] as I came out of adolescence and became a young man, it became more and more clear to me that my own story, being a Black man of mixed race, that had this unusual upbringing and didn't have a father at home — was raised by a single mother, sometimes in fairly immodest circumstances — that part of my own coming of age and finding myself had to be tied with something bigger than myself," Obama continued.

Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford playing for Manchester United
| Credit: Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty

Obama moved on to discuss issues such as the importance of giving back to your local community and the positive impact of reading, both of which are detailed in his memoir, A Promised Land.

He also spoke movingly about the impact of being raised by a single mother in a house of "modest means" — something Rashford also experienced as a boy growing up in Manchester, England.

Last year the soccer star drew on this tough life experience to spearhead a high-profile campaign addressing the issue of child food poverty in the U.K. during the coronavirus pandemic.

His efforts directly prompted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fund a project providing meals to 1.7 million vulnerable children in the U.K. More recently, the star striker has founded a food education project for children called Full Time Meals, which is based on the principle that "No child should ever have to go to bed hungry."

White House basketball court, President Barack Obama plays basketball
President Obama Play Basketball With Wounded Soldiers
| Credit: Getty

"From what I have read about what Marcus is doing, he's taken his own experiences and he's 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?'" said Obama about Marcus' inspiring community work.

"Like Marcus, I think we all find our own paths to that kind of service, but if enough young people do that, that's how progress gets made," he added. "That's how things move forward."

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Obama continued: "As I point out in the book, it's not like I always made the right choices. When I was a kid, I was a lot more interested in girls and partying and basketball than I was in having a social impact. You are constantly learning and finding out what's meaningful and important to you and to others. And how can you create a life that has purpose and has meaning."

He quipped, "Marcus is way ahead of where I was at 23. I was still trying to figure it out."

Rashford, whose book You Are A Champion also aims to inspire younger generations to make their voices heard, described the experience of talking to Obama from his Manchester kitchen as "quite surreal," The Guardian reported.

"It wasn't long before I realized just how aligned our experiences as children were in shaping the men you see today — adversity, obstacles and all," he added. "I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it. When President Obama speaks, all you want to do is listen."

Talking in the YouTube meeting, Rashford explained more about how his boyhood environment and love of soccer helped inspire his community work, for which he was honored by Queen Elizabeth in her Birthday Honors List for 2020.

"I grew up in an environment where people just accepted what they were given," said Rashford. "I was lucky enough to have two older brothers who just loved football and my vision of football growing up was it doesn't matter your color, or where you come from, or your religion. If you work hard enough and put the hours in, then you get what you deserve."