Words By Dee “lilD” Porter
Not all heroes wear capes. And not all survivors are given their flowers for fighting to be present after horrific tragedy. Luckily, one woman is on a mission to change that.
The experiences that Angelia Dunbar has survived would make for one interesting season of television. She left home as a teenager, was kidnapped, beaten and left temporarily blind. She also endured breast cancer. But this realtor, speaker and philanthropist would rather focus on her triumphs, and the triumphs of others, than her trials.
The third annual Survivors Ball took place on Oct. 2 at the Sheraton in Dallas. This red-tie event honors extraordinary people who have not only survived incredibly life-altering events, but found the strength in their sorrow to help others.
Survivors Ball Honoree Dana Branch began her acceptance speech by saying she’s a “survivor of pretty much everything.” Her dad “beat [her] out of [her] mom” when her mom was just six months pregnant with Dana. But it wasn’t until Dana was two years old, and her dad put a gun to her head, that her mom left him. Branch survived sexual abuse from three different people. She even beat Covid. In 2010, Dana was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, the same disease that claimed her mom’s life just 11 years prior. Once a cardiologist told her she’d have to lose weight before they could help her any further, she took action. Dana Branch has lost 240 pounds thus far, and runs an online motivational support group called WeightLossMVPs.
During Honoree Sue Loncar’s speech, she talked about picking out her daughter’s casket one Monday, and her husband’s casket the following Monday. Sue and her husband Brian knew that their daughter Grace was depressed; she had been seeing a counselor at the time of her suicide, and they usually made sure to not have guns in the house. But her husband did not take his gun out of the home this time. Just three days after Grace’s death, Brian Loncar was found dead in his office, a result of what the coroner ruled as an accidental cocaine overdose. During her speech, Sue Loncar said “always, the solution to your problems is getting out of yourself and doing something for others.” She started the Grace Loncar Foundation as a way to “educate people on the signs of depression and mental illness, to give resources to those in need of a safe place to deal with their depression, and to advocate for families, friends and those struggling with depression & suicidal thoughts.”
Mike Garrett’s speech touched on the people he hurt while incarcerated for aggravated assault. When his mother would visit him behind bars, he said “[it felt like] she was incarcerated as well.” His sister told him that Mike and his friends reminded her of the main characters from Menace 2 Society. He hadn’t seen the movie, but once he did, he knew he had to change his family’s perception of him. He’s not only turned his life around, but he now educates others on how they can as well. Garrett believes the key to life is understanding. “If you want to see someone, support someone, help someone….you need to understand. If you wanna change, change your mind.”
Keynote speaker Fox Rich is the epitome of what the kids call a “ride or die chick.” Out of desperation, she and her husband, Rob Rich, robbed a bank in hopes to get more funds to keep their clothing store open. Fox took a plea and was out in three and a half years. But her husband went to trial and the judge gave him 60 years in prison. Instead of giving up, these Shreveport, Louisiana natives began a 21-year fight to reunite their family. Documenting what she thought was everyday life, Fox’s videos were turned into an award-winning documentary, Time, showing not only the fight against the criminal justice system, but the strength of a mother raising six kids while fighting to free her husband. Fox says “[their] love knocked down the walls of Angola [also known as Louisiana State Penitentiary] and it was just the beginning of what God had in store for us. The documentary is available on Amazon Prime Video. Today, the couple is not only free, but through their persistence and consistent effort to fight the criminal justice system, they’ve saved over 1,000 years’ worth of people serving time. Rob Rich says “to be free is to free others.”
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While it is important to “give people their flowers,” the Survivors Ball shows that perhaps it’s more important to give people a platform to use their stories to help others blossom. From the décor to the entertainment and the menu, this event was indeed fit for royalty, a title in which every recipient can proudly wear.