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By Autumn Brown, Senior Writer
Beginning the call with Braeden Anderson, former Division I basketball player and associate at Sidley Austin LLP, it was inevitable we speak about COVID-19 and its impact on our lives. Though for Braeden, squeezing opportunity out of otherwise dismal circumstances is a running theme that has greatly shaped his life.
So why would a global pandemic be any different?
Speaking to me from Atlanta, Georgia, he says, “Overall, it’s a bad thing. It’s going to cost people a lot of pain, which is a negative thing, but it’s happening. I can’t control that it’s happening, so how do I respond?”
Adapting, a skill Braeden would learn to perfect and one that will ultimately set him apart as one of the greats.
While in Atlanta embarking on his newest venture, real estate investing, Braeden acknowledges the metaphorical elephant in all our lives–what if I fail? What if the rules of the game change, and it’s a waste?
Braeden’s philosophy, however, is to “analyze the situation as it is in the moment, make a plan that works with those facts and be totally okay with the fact the rules of the game might change.”
Ambitious and fearless are two characteristics that would help carry Braeden out of his hometown, Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, to America alone as a teenager to pursue his basketball talents.
Born to a single mother raising 6 Black children, Braeden recalls the racial tensions he experienced growing up in Canada. Okotoks, Alberta, a town of 20,000 citizens, had only two Black families. It makes sense why representation matters so much to Braeden.
Braeden shared a touching yet painful story from his past. One where representation could have made a difference. At age 13 being tied to a tree by skinheads with swastika tattoos over their bodies, he had rocks thrown at his tender body and endured racist chants.
“There are not enough black people,” he says as he explains the racism problem in Canada. “So with something like that happening, it’s not like something like that can’t happen in South Carolina. Or that couldn’t happen somewhere in the south or the U.S. It could happen. But if that happened, people, your people, they’re gonna care. People are gonna care.” With representation, “it’s not going to go quietly.”
Braeden goes on to say, “I grew up, I never saw a Black doctor ever in my life growing up there. I never saw a Black lawyer. I never saw a Black professional — period. Ever. And that does a lot to you. It does a lot to what you think you can be and what you think you can achieve.”
It is as if Braeden stared down those odds and said: Challenge Accepted.
Currently, an associate at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country, the firm that would bring together our beloved Michelle and Barack Obama, Braeden continues to shatter false notions of limits.
Resilient. Determined. Persistent.
Using basketball as a way to receive an education, Wilbraham & Monson Academy–a college prep school in Massachusetts–was the changing point in his life.
Attending an institution alongside children of very wealthy and powerful people around the globe, Braeden reiterated, “I had no business getting in.”
But there he was, squeezing his athletic opportunity out of the experience. But most importantly, seizing the academic benefits from his new school. Finally, feeling seen by his new teachers, he gained the confidence needed to cement his capabilities as a student-athlete.
Education, and sites of education, can be game-changers in a young student’s life. With high expectations and core teachers who cared, Braeden exhibited a level of work ethic that started with him not being “okay” with performing poorly.
Assimilation by association.
Working to develop skills on and off the court, Braeden originally committed to play basketball at Kansas, until a discrepancy with the NCAA clearinghouse would land him at Fresno State.
Braeden could squeeze huge opportunities out of a damp rag, and his first semester at Fresno State he realized that he had the chance to bridge a gap. A gap between black male student-athletes and predominantly white University professors. And rather than anger without a solution, he believes in acknowledging bias, or a propensity for bias, and confronting it head-on. Doing so with a clear mission and intention.
“Is it fair that I have to give them that speech to treat me properly,” he says, “No. But it works, it’s effective. And I got what I needed out of it. And I’ve carried that on into my professional life.”
Though on September 3, 2013, by the end of the day, Braeden would have to begin fighting for another cause. His life.
Hit head-on by a drunk driver, Braeden’s C5 and C6 vertebra, responsible for controlling your diaphragm, were shattered.
He had 0.06% chance to make a full recovery.
But with that damp rag, Braeden was still somehow able to squeeze out greatness.
I loved listening to Braeden’s story because through such tribulation, he always told it with a positive spin. So his 0.06% chance at a full recovery was spun into him becoming the first law student to also play Division I basketball at Seton Hall University. And because just playing was not enough for Braeden, he also contributed to the 2016 Big East Conference Championship.
Braeden’s story is not unlike others born into less ideal circumstances. Though with the opportunities earned, Braeden was able to squeeze enough water out of a seemingly dry rag to propel him into a stratosphere of success and accomplishment.
He believes greatly in the power of mentorship, and despite never seeing a black professional while growing up in Canada, Braeden is committed to using his story to inspire younger generations of black professionals.
“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” he says.
Braeden continues to work as an associate in Sidley’s Securities Enforcement and Regulatory group. In true Braeden fashion, he maintains an active pro bono practice that seems to pay homage to his status as an immigrant—representing domestic violence victims in connection with their petitions for U nonimmigrant status.
Additionally, Braeden also serves as an adjunct professor of business law at Monroe College in the Bronx, New York.
Autumn Brown is a doctoral student in social foundations of education at Oklahoma State University. Social foundations analyzes and explains educational issues, policies, and practices through the lenses of history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Its goal is to improve the educational experiences for members belonging to marginalized groups. Her research focus centers around the experiences of black women in STEM and black women within the academy. She also researches racial body politics, sexuality, and intimate justice for black women. She has published a book chapter titled “Breaking the silence: Black women’s experience with abortion,” and has presented her work on the intense policing of the black female body nationally. Autumn plans on continuing her pursuits in bringing awareness to the injustices imposed on members within her community, and advocating for equitable education for black and brown students. She plans on finishing her Ph.D. in May 2020 and hopes to move into a tenure-tracked faculty position at a top tier research university.