COLUMBUS (WCMH) — There are those moments in life that you remember exactly where you were when they happened or you found out. For professional goalkeeper Zack Steffen, most of those have happened with him standing on a soccer field.
Then, there is May 25, 2020.
“I was in Dusseldorf with my sister, my younger sister,” Zack said. “Then I started getting a lot of texts and videos coming through.”
Those texts and videos were about a man named George Floyd who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
“I saw the first like 30 seconds of the video, and I read the headline and knew that he died,” Steffen said. “And I still to this day have not watched the entire, anything past 30 seconds.”
We all remember the aftermath of George Floyd’s death: protests sparked around the United States, and even made their way around the world.
“There were protests everywhere. My sister and I went to a protest in Dusseldorf,” he said. “It gives me chills now just to talk about it.”
But for Steffen, that wasn’t enough.
So, he called his best friend and former Columbus Crew teammate, Alex Crognale.
“That conversation was hard because there are so many emotions going on, but the most important piece of that was what can we do?” Crognale said.
“It was definitely tough to be so far away but because I was across the pond,” Steffen explained. “That’s what kind of made me create VOYCENOW and do something other than going out to protests.”
“VOYCENOW is a collection of professional athletes across the world fighting for racial equality, inspiring the next generation, setting them up for success, teaching them to continue to make a difference,” Crognale explained.
“We want to get to as many kids in America, mostly who are underprivileged in the rough communities. We want to get to those kids and give them a helping hand,” Steffen said. “We’ve raised over $100,000 in the first year.”
One project that money goes towards is a minority education fund. Steffen and Crognale quickly saw during the height of COVID-19 how children in underserved communities desperately needed tools to help with virtual learning.
” We’re helping give them laptops and study hours and after school programming and also 2 meals each day for those kids at these clubs. Right now we are working with the Boys and Girls Club of America in 7 major cities,” Steffen said.
One of those cities is Columbus – Crognale’s hometown, and a place that is special to Steffen even when he’s thousands of miles away.
“For me, Columbus was my second home. I had an amazing three years there and yeah those people are in my hearts forever,” he said. “I love Columbus and it was very important that we give back to that city.”
Steffen said he was definitely cheering for his former soccer team as they won the MLS Cup last year.
“I was a little jealous!” he exclaimed. “But no, it was really awesome to watch and I was very happy for them but the city of Columbus and the fans deserved it the most. All their hard work really came to fruition. I mean, it was almost like a fairy tale kind of ending and they deserved it: the players deserved it, the club deserved it, so being able to watch from afar I was very happy for everybody and I was proud to say I represented the Crew.”
Now, Steffen represents Manchester City – the newly crowned Premier League Champions.
And the team is about to play for the UEFA Champions League title: the most-watched single game each year.
“I’m very excited. It hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe it won’t hit me until I go out for warmups that day or maybe it’ll kind of hit me when we train there on Friday, Friday night maybe it’ll hit me then,” Steffen said, who won’t be the only member of the US Men’s National team playing for the title. On the other side, for Chelsea, is winger Christian Pulisic.
“It’s very good for US Soccer,” Steffen said. “It’s crazy that two players from PA are doing this and doing it so soon. I would have never really imagined I would have been doing this at 26 years old. I had dreams and aspirations to be doing it, but for it to actually be reality is pretty crazy and I’m just trying to soak it all in this week.”
As Steffen continues to find success in his soccer career, he knows his platform will continue to rise – and he embraces the added responsibility, not just to voice his thoughts and feelings, but to encourage others to do so as well. That is what led to the unique spelling of VOYCENOW.
“We put the ‘Y’ in there because for ‘you’ – everybody has a voice and we think that we should all use our voice to make the next generation, to make the world a better place for the next generation,” he explained. “I believe that no matter how big your platform is you have to use your voice or you should use your voice to make the world a better place.”
For more information about VOYCENOW go to: https://www.voycenowfoundation.org/