Zack Steffen:
Using his voice to make change

Zack Steffen has plenty to be proud of.

He is the first American to win the Premier League, a Carabao Cup winner, a CONCACAF Nations League champion, an MLS all-star and a 24-cap United States international.

The 26-year-old has achieved a lot and his ambition is to add more to that list of accomplishments by the time he retires, but among the facts and figures that all footballers are measured by, there are two remarkable numbers which standout as far as the Manchester City goalkeeper is concerned.

70, 000 and 1.8 million.         

You won’t find these next to Steffen’s name in the stats columns or in sports reports, but they should certainly fill him with pride.

They are the outcome of the work he does in the other major role in his life as co-founder of the VOYCENOW Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to addressing racial inequality by supporting children from minority backgrounds across America.

In the 16 months since its formation, VOYCENOW has supported 70, 000 young people and delivered 1.8 million meals in low-income communities, where economic disadvantages are limiting their chances of reaching their full potential.

Steffen is striving to change that.

His achievements on the football pitch have given him a platform and he is determined to use it to create opportunities for people who may not ordinarily have them.

“I work very hard and make a lot of sacrifices to be where I am and to have the platform that I have,” he tells

“I don’t want to use that platform for my own personal gain, for my career and branding. I want to use it for good as well and to speak up against the ugliness in the world – racism.

“I want to use my platform to spread light on the people who need it.”

As part of the UK's Black History Month Celebration, Zack Steffen discusses what he is proud to be.

As part of the UK's Black History Month Celebration, Zack Steffen discusses what he is proud to be.

Philanthropy had been on the City goalkeeper’s mind for some time prior to the launch of VOYCENOW.

He had held discussions with those closest to him about how he could utilise his status as an athlete to give back to those less fortunate but had been unable to decide on a specific focus or cause.

That all changed on Monday 25 May 2020, when George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

Steffen was on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf in Germany at the time, but watched on in disgust as videos of the attack circulated online and knew he had to act.

“I was home six months before that over Christmas and I was talking to my mum about wanting to create a foundation,” Steffen explains. “We just didn’t know which avenue to go down.

“When all that happened in the States it was kind of a no brainer [to start VOYCENOW] because of my ethnic background and the opportunities I had because of the support and hard work from my mum and my family to push me and give me and my siblings the things we had growing up.”

Steffen’s aim with VOYCENOW is to give children from underprivileged backgrounds the very support that allowed him to dream big and fulfil his potential.

‘An easy life’ is how he describes his childhood in Pennsylvania.

It was one free from racism, though in later years he has discovered his mother endured the prejudices of others as a white woman raising three children from a mixed ethnic background.

Stefanie Steffen does not hold an official role within the VOYCENOW Foundation, but that does not diminish her influence, because aside from creating an environment for her son to pursue his dreams, she also instilled in him the values which underpin his charitable initiative.

“I didn’t have to deal with racism or anything like police brutality,” he recalls of his early life in the city of Coatesville.

“The only thing I had to deal with was kids at school making Oreo jokes. I was very blessed. I was given everything I needed and wanted. It was nice.

“My mum is white, and she had three half black kids three years in a row. I am 26, my sister is 25 and the other one is 24.

“She definitely has dealt with people being ignorant and racist and just saying things as she was walking three little black kids to school or in the mall.

“She kind of tried to hide that from us growing up but lately we have had conversations where we have been more honest, and she has told me about certain situations.

“She raised me and my siblings to be kind to everybody and to treat others how you want to be treated. 

“That really stuck with me and I want to do exactly that.”

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It was on Tuesday 2 June 2020, eight days after the killing of George Floyd, that Steffen committed to doing just that.

In a statement released on social media, his message was simple: ‘Enough is enough’.

“This week I reached my threshold,” he wrote.

“Enough is enough. I’m committed to making a change, a change that should have happened years ago.

“I want to build something to create a safer world today and ensure a better future for the next generation and the generation to follow.”

And so, the VOYCENOW Foundation was born.

Steffen launched the charity with his friend and former team-mate Alex Crognale, with support from Crognale’s partner, Kyle Dawson.

The two co-founders, who played together at the University of Maryland and Columbus Crew, had shared many a conversation about helping disadvantaged communities and Floyd’s murder was the catalyst for them to try and evoke change in the world.

“Alex and I go way back,” says City’s No.13.

“We have had a lot of conversations about giving back, supporting communities and we thought that this was a good opportunity to be helpful and give a lending hand to people who need it.

“VOYCENOW is a community of athletes all around America that want to give back and have the same desires that I do and have a big heart and want to make the world a better place.

“It is about giving back to the low-income communities and the at-risk kids and families.”

VOYCENOW does that by investing in children from minority backgrounds in a bid to ensure they have the same chances in life as everyone else and, in that regard, it is fair to say rapid progress has been made.

They are currently working in 10 locations across the US, including: Alabama, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and the Washington DC area.

Their work is facilitated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America - a nationwide organisation committed to helping disadvantaged young people reach their potential – who VOYCENOW partnered with within a matter of months of the launch.

The Foundation’s flagship campaign is the Minority Education Fund, which has raised more than $100,000 and is dispersed through the Boys and Girls Clubs, not only providing meals, but also technology, educational resources and after school programmes for children heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Boys and Girls Club of America are in many cities over in America,” Steffen explains.

“It is pretty much like school for kids in low-income areas.  They teach these kids about everything and keep them out of trouble and off the streets

“Most of the kids are Black or Hispanic. They are struggling to have food and they’re struggling to have books for school, to have Wi-Fi to do their schoolwork and some don’t have book bags. They are all suffering somehow.

“We want to give them the things that they need to be able to go to school with a full stomach and the energy to learn and take notes.

“We are working with the Boys and Girls Club of America and going into those communities, meeting kids and starting to have a relationship with them to give them that spark and belief that they can be where we are someday.

“We’re in 10 cities in eight states right now and in the coming months we are going to expand to another city or two.”

Zack Steffen explains why he founded the VOYCENOW Foundation.

Zack Steffen explains why he founded the VOYCENOW Foundation.

VOYCENOW’s progress is even more remarkable when you consider it was launched in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, with Steffen across the Atlantic Ocean in Manchester.

It meant initial efforts were focused on raising awareness and donations to fund their work.

A VOYCENOW clothing range was launched and a virtual 10k Run For Equality event organised, with all proceeds going towards the Minority Education Fund.

However, once lockdown restrictions eased, it allowed Steffen to get out into the community and meet the young people he is striving to help, and earlier this year, he visited Boys and Girls Clubs in Birmingham, Alabama and Columbus, Ohio.

“The past summer I went into the Boys and Girls Club and met the kids and talked to them about my childhood and where I am today,” he says.

“They asked questions and we played some soccer. A lot of these kids don’t really know what soccer is.

“In America it’s about basketball, American football and baseball and in low-income communities they look up to those type of athletes – the Black basketball and football players. They don’t really watch soccer, so I really want to bring soccer into those communities.

“It was very a humbling moment, and it was very eye opening.

“I was very proud of the work we had been doing and all that work really came to fruition when we were able to donate to those clubs and actually go in there and meet the kids and talk to them about what’s going on in the world and how we can make the world a better place.

“It’s been a learning experience. I am a perfectionist so if I go into the Clubs and talks to these kids, I think it has to be something marvellous, but it doesn’t really have to be.

“It’s just got to come from the heart and be honest. If everyone is like that and we can have those honest conversations, that’s how we can evoke change.”

Now, the aim is to get more inspiring athletes in front of these young people.

Football remains Steffen’s focus and the same can be said of co-founder Crognale, who plies his tried in the second tier of the US pyramid with Birmingham Legion, which means Dawson takes the lead with the day to day running of the Foundation.

The City goalkeeper’s primary responsibility has been recruiting other sports stars to back his initiative.

More than 150 athletes from six different sports across 20 leagues and 13 countries have pledged their support to VOYCENOW.

City’s Janine Beckie is one of them, whilst international team-mates such as Barcelona’s Sergino Dest, Juventus’ Weston McKinnie, Lille’s Timothy Weah and Antonee Robinson of Fulham, have all done the same.

“It has been amazing,” Steffen says of the response. “Right from the start they were very supportive.

“Any ideas we came up with they were all in for making that come to light and they are really looking forward to going into these cities and communities and the Boys and Girls Clubs to meet these kids and play with them like I did last summer.

“Right now, we are focusing mainly on getting these athletes into these communities now that COVID lockdowns have settled down.

“A lot of them are my friends and ex-teammates and for them to be so supportive when they don’t have to be means a lot.”

Zack Steffen on his goals for the VOYCENOW Foundation.

Zack Steffen on his goals for the VOYCENOW Foundation.

Given how far VOYCENOW has come in such a short space of time, it begs the question, what’s next?

There are new partnerships on the horizon, and Steffen has big ideas about what can be achieved in the future.

He is approaching his charity work with the same drive and determination which have enabled him to forge a successful football career and, whilst he is satisfied with the progress, he has no intention of slowing down.

There are young people to inspire and change to be made and Steffen knows using his voice gives him the power to do so.

“I am proud but as an athlete and where I am today, I am a perfectionist, and I am always trying to reach that next level,” he concludes.

“I have more goals and expectations for this. I want to keep going and keep striving but the support we have had and the donations from our fans and family and friends has been amazing.

“That’s what community is all about and what this world should be about: Spreading love and helping people out when you have the opportunity to.

“That is why we are doing this, so that we can give those kids that hope and belief and those dreams.”

To find out more about the VOYCENOW Foundation’s work and how you can support it, visit:

You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to their YouTube channel, to keep up to date with their latest work.