Words by Charles Odugbesan
23 year old Manchester United frontman Marcus Rashford earlier this month received an MBE in recognition of his services to young children in need across the country. It was he who gave the rallying call to the UK government to persuade them to extend free school meals for children across the summer during the Covid-19 pandemic and has since started a child food poverty task force, working with some of the biggest supermarkets in the country, continuing his good work through the final quarter of 2020.
His efforts to both address social inequality and drive home the point that no child in a country as prestigious and established as this one (let alone any for the record) should be made to go hungry, are to be admired and rightfully celebrated. And several smaller scale food suppliers up and down the country are following suit, providing free meals to young people locally despite the huge financial losses suffered amidst the global pandemic.
Sceptics and political agendas may serve to discredit the efforts of young Marcus Rashford… but I neither am nor have one of those! From signing with Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports earlier in the year, receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester, to forcing the hand of the UK Government to an MBE, it’s been quite the year for Wythenshawe’s own!
What I will say, is that the MBE itself and Marcus’ decision to accept it, may be the only thing that potentially divides opinion. As a young black man of Nigerian descent, born and raised in the U.K. I may not have accepted the accolade personally. Research not only into Britain’s hand in the slave trade, but also of the earliest British settlements across Africa and a thirst for alternate sources of financial gain that led to a colonial rule of Nigeria that only ended in 1960, would all steer my own moral compass away from accepting a title as a Member of the British Empire. Too much exploitation, too much erased or forgotten history, too much blood spilt for my liking.
But that’s just me.
On the flip side, one might not blame Rashford’s decision to accept the MBE. As a young professional footballer, especially in a country where elite sportsmen are subject to high levels of scrutiny from press and general public alike… why not play the game? Seize the moment and accept the good press that comes with the MBE. Draw more attention to your philanthropy and use the title as your leverage. Use it to open doors for yourself – to get into rooms that otherwise may have closed those doors to you. Impose your will and influence on political figures (who are now well aware of who you are) for the betterment of a generation that your voice now represents.
Ask amongst friends and family as we encourage a debate to take shape. Marcus Rashford has made his decision and we at 14HQ congratulate and respect it. But what would you have done had you been in that position?