America at Large: Martin Braithwaite puts his money where his mouth is

Denmark striker is working on ways to offer greater opportunities to African-Americans

Martin Braithwaite’s impressive displays with Denmark these past couple of weeks have spawned speculation about a possible transfer to the Premier League. Photograph: Martin Meissner/Getty Images

Martin Braithwaite’s impressive displays with Denmark these past couple of weeks have spawned speculation about a possible transfer to the Premier League. Photograph: Martin Meissner/Getty Images

 

As part of a talking heads panel on the Yahoo Finance channel, Martin Braithwaite sat there, wearing a Denmark training top, and held forth about offering the less well-off the chance to micro-invest in his crowd-funding property app in order to improve their circumstances.

Nothing to see here except a polyglot Barcelona striker conversing very comfortably in one of his four languages about ways to empower impoverished black communities in America.

“We want to teach people about financial freedom and the power that they possess,” said Braithwaite, a footballer of a very different stripe. “We have so many things that we want to do and always with the mindset to give back.”

In an era when too many athletes not named Marcus Rashford talk about social justice because it’s on brand, here is someone who practices what he preaches.

In partnership with his uncle, Philip Michael, the best-selling author of “Real Estate Wealth Hacking: How To 10x Your Net Worth in 18 Months”, he has invested millions in affordable housing in historically black neighbourhoods across Philadelphia and New Jersey.

When not wearing the blaugrana alongside Lionel Messi or leading the line for Denmark (his goal against Ireland at the Aviva way back in 2019 clinched Euro 2020 qualification), the 30 year-old is monitoring the construction of smart homes and working on ways to offer greater opportunities to African-Americans in entrepreneurship and the tech industry.

“I always had this American side, and I think maybe that’s why my mindset is maybe more American: dreaming big, doing amazing things, writing goals down,” said Braithwaite in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. “In Denmark, we have an amazing system protecting the people. Everyone is good. No one needs anything. In America, it’s not really the same thing.”

Martin Braithwaite won the Copa del Rey with Catalan club Barcelona this season. File photograph: Fran Santiago/Getty Images
Martin Braithwaite won the Copa del Rey with Catalan club Barcelona this season. File photograph: Fran Santiago/Getty Images

The foot in two countries mentality is a product of a unique back story. His parents met in Brooklyn where Keith Braithwaite was an immigrant from Guyana and Heidi Christensen an au pair from Denmark. They married and raised their family in Esbjerg, a seaport on the Jutland Peninsula, where, at five, Martin was diagnosed with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (a hip bone condition) and spent two years in a wheelchair. Tough times for a football-mad child.

The limp didn’t last

“My parents have explained it and I do remember wanting to play football, looking at everyone playing,” said Braithwaite. “I needed someone on me because I was trying to jump out of the wheelchair. My dad says when I played again it made him sad: he could see his son running around but he was limping.”

The limp didn’t last. Eventually, he started to shine for Esbjerg fB and had trials with Reggina and Newcastle United before moving to Toulouse in 2013. There, he became club captain and started his philanthropy with an initiative called Score2help where he donated €1000 to charity for every goal he scored. Middlesbrough was his next stop, an unhappy stint in the English Championship hallmarked by rows with Tony Pulis who accused him of being “ungrateful” as he agitated for a move to Leganes in Spain.

That’s where he was, busy battling relegation in February of last year, when La Liga somehow allowed Barcelona to bend the rules to sign him as emergency cover for the then injured Ousmane Dembele. Such a dramatic and unlikely switch from the outhouse to the penthouse drew some gasps (especially around the north-east of England) and the negative reaction might have fazed any other player.

Whatever happens next, his journey is expected to wind inexorably towards America

Not this guy, a stoic character blessed with the holistic worldview of somebody who spent many school holidays hanging with his extended Guyanese family in New York.

“At first I was surprised by Barca’s interest, but for many years it was something that I had dreamed of,” said Braithwaite, whose media introduction included a rather embarrassing photo op where he messed up some ball juggling, much to social media’s delight. “I had the ambition to play at that level. I always believed in it. If you are positive, you work hard and you pray, everything is possible.”

Like so many others at the shambolic Camp Nou, Braithwaite often struggled to find his best form over the past year but his impressive displays with Denmark these past couple of weeks have spawned speculation about a possible transfer to the Premier League, with West Ham United among the leading suitors.

Whatever happens next, his journey is expected to wind inexorably towards America where a career-ending stint in Major League Soccer would dovetail nicely with a burgeoning portfolio of off-field enterprises marrying his commercial investments with his social conscience.

For practical reasons, his charismatic uncle is very much the public face of NYCE, their company, over here at this point, and he regularly talks in interviews about their shared goal of creating 100,000 new millionaires of colour through their investment strategies.

Wildly ambitious perhaps but the duo has already built Temple 1, a business incubator in Philadelphia where minority entrepreneurs can grow their start-ups, be mentored and pitch for financing.

“We believe in equal rights, no matter what colour they are,” said Braithwaite. “There should not be any difference. This is something that’s really important for us because no matter your colour, you should have the same rights and do the same things no matter what, we just want to put everyone back in the game and make it equal for everyone.”

Putting his money where his mouth is.

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