Football has the power to affect change. Man City’s USMNT keeper Zack Steffen doesn’t just believe in that, he’s acting upon it with his non-profit organisation, VoyceNow. So what exactly is it and what’s it all about? Well who better to tell us than the founder himself.

Zack Steffen made the decision to use his position in society to affect positive change. Having seen enough tragedy in the world in his relatively young life he decided to act, to use his elevated station in life to create a positive influence in the battle for change and equality. Teaming up with former Columbus Crew teammate, Alex Crognale, and sports marketer, Chris Korte, the friends founded VoyceNow, a non-profit charity whose mission is to create a global community of athletes dedicated to speaking up on current social issues, educating the next generation on racial equality and giving back to their communities. With over $100,000 raised and 70,000 youths served since its inception back in 2020, it’s fair to say that the organisation is doing what it set out to do, and then some. So we sat down with Steffen and Korte to find out more about their amazing work.

Where did it all start with you guys and VoyceNow? Can you tell us when the idea was born?

Zack Steffen: We started it just after the killing of George Floyd. I knew at that point that I wanted to do something that would help and contribute to the change away from the social injustices in America. Police brutality, red-lining and all that kind of stuff. I began having difficult but necessary conversations with two good friends, Alex Crognale and Chris Korte. The three of us met at the University of Maryland. Both guys are super passionate and after a couple of days thinking about the idea, we realised we needed to create a team and a structure and we jumped on it right away. It’s been a strong journey ever since.

What’s your objective with it and the experience of it all so far?

Chris Korte: As it was born out of what happened to George Floyd and it happened at a point where Zack’s career was really taking off, I could see that Zack was hungry to use the increased profile he was getting in a positive way. I knew I could help formulate all his thoughts and put together a plan and create a brand that wrapped up all that emotion. That’s how it was born.

The first thing we talked about was about speaking up.  It’s important that Zack can use his network to get other athletes to speak up too, and almost create a place and a community or a safe space where people can express how they are feeling about things and address issues at the same time. We wanted to create an environment where people can learn from each other without the fear of being judged.

Our ultimate goal is to get everyone to speak up and share their experiences more and more. We want to create something with an open heart and open mind but most importantly, open ears, all the time.

I would say that since we started putting this together, we’ve found more areas in which we can grow. Not just fundraisers for kids and communities in the States but creating opportunities for kids to get involved in after school programmes and things like that. Getting kids to be a part of this movement has been a huge driver and eye opener for us. It’s made us realise that we can have a positive impact on the lives of the next generation.

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"Getting kids to be a part of this movement has been a huge driver and eye opener for us. It’s made us realise that we can have a positive impact on the lives of the next generation."

Football is so powerful and it can be such a strong way of bringing people together to create change – is that something you’ve seen?

CK: Yeah the football side and what we’re trying to do with after school programmes really goes hand in hand. Playing football, being on a team, participating in sports in general, it means they’re being given an outlet, it means they have something else to do and can hopefully prevent kids from falling into trouble and put them on the right path. Our focus really is on that next generation and I think we can all learn a lot from being in that team environment that football gives you.

Going through the process of branding it up, has it been a way you can express yourself as well as helping others?

ZS: It’s something I’m passionate about and in a way, it’s an outlet for me. It means I can be creative. It means I can spend time positively thinking about ways in which we can help others but also create an organisation that stands up well visually. We get a lot of support and there’s a lot of people who have become driven around VoyceNow and want to make it genuinely actionable. It’s not an organisation purely for the sake of it and a lot of good things are being done and happening that will have an impact on people’s lives. Like everyone, we’re waiting for Covid to settle down so that we can get into the communities and meet the kids and the families we’re trying to help. We want to start a relationship with them and really make a change to local communities.

You’ve hit a number of milestones, $100,000 in donations is one. What other big moments have made a big mark along the way?

ZS: I’d say the network that we’ve grown is a real success behind the scenes. It’s a network of athletes and families who have all come together to support us and build the movement.

CK: We’ve been able to go back to the University of Maryland and done a virtual run for equality with them. Seeing all the support we have got from them has been a big milestone on a personal level for us. It was a way to see a very literal change and impact that we’re able to have on our local community.

Another big one was working with The Boys and Girls Club of America. From launch, to be able to say we’ve received support from such a big national organisation was enormous. It was eye-opening as well. We didn’t expect that level of support but it’s such a huge influence on the next generation that by working with them, we know the desire to make a change is very real.

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We came up with VoyceNow, specifically putting the ‘Y’ in the name because YOU have a voice."

Even with the name of VoyceNow it’s about doing things in the here and now isn’t it – not the past or the future but now. Can you expand on how you really want to empower people to act now?

ZS: Yeah, we came up with VoyceNow, specifically putting the ‘Y’ in the name because “YOU” have a voice. We have to learn to share our voice and our opinion and not be afraid of the backlash that follows. Footballers need to break down that barrier. We know insults will come our way and we’ll constantly be critiqued and receive hate on social media. We have to try and look past that and have an open heart.

I think after the video of the killing of George Floyd, a lot of people just said “enough is enough”, we can’t let this kind of thing happen any more. It really was eye opening. For me, it definitely was. We spend time watching movies and videos on instagram or wherever, then we share it, maybe share our two-cents on Instagram stories but then two days later, you’re back to normal and we’ve not acted on or spoken more about what we’ve seen and as footballers, it’s back to posting pictures of games and all that. That’s why I wanted to create something that really took and actionable step and could help the future generation.

If people want to join, support and learn more about what you’re doing, what’s the best way?

CK: Social media first and foremost @voycenow and the website too. That’s where we’re being most vocal about what we’re doing and how people can get involved. We’re building up that content but the plan is to be able to host a number of virtual events and mentorship sessions. We’re building how that looks.

If people want to support what we’re doing and the message, they can wear the gear we’ve made, follow us and we’d invite people to share their stories with us. We want to learn as much as we can and give back at the same time. It’s about building a community where we can all build change together. We need to empower people to say something when they see something. We need to drive for accountability for what’s being said on social media, we want to see more of that in the world and more justice across the board.

You can donate to VOYCENOW here, and 100 percent of your contribution will directly support the VOYCENOW Minority Education Fund in partnership with BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF AMERICA.