Updated: Aug 31, 2019
“Domestic violence causes far more pain than the visible marks of bruises and scars. It is devastating to be abused by someone you love, and think loves you in return. It is estimated that approximately 3 million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year in the United States." -Senator Dianne Feinstein
Domestic violence is an issue about which I was horribly uniformed prior to the last few years. It wasn’t on my radar, and I didn’t know any victims of domestic violence….or so I thought.
In reality…. the specter of domestic violence loomed far closer than I realized. The victim? Her name is Angel Fant. She is my niece.
At age 11, she was the flower girl in my wedding. At age 34, she founded, No Punching Bag, a fashion brand for social change. It’s an organization which designs fashion collections, promotes the arts, and is relentless in the pursuit of raising awareness about domestic violence.
At 37, she realized the dream of having her company’s fashion designs featured on the runway at Paris Fashion week. On September 8th, she will be doing likewise at New York Fashion Week. Her harrowing journey from victim to victor is the path traversed in between.
This is her HOPE story:
“Am I making the right decision?”, she asked herself. Doubt slowly arose like tendrils of smoke from a smoldering campfire and she began to second guess herself.
“Maybe he’ll admit he messed up…..Maybe he’ll say he’s sorry….Maybe he’ll want to work things out,” she allowed the thoughts to linger for a few minutes---but the reverie was short lived.
He was her abusive husband…..at least for the next few hours. He was coming to take her to lunch and then on to court. She found it Ironic that they would ride together to the dissolution of their marriage.
“You’re not going to ask for more money are you?” he nonchalantly inquired soon after she got into the car, thereby disabusing her of any residual hope of reconciliation.
Money was actually the furthest thing from her mind. After years of humiliation, pain, and secrecy, her primary desire was freedom. She wanted her life back.
Angel cites her personal relationship with God, and a tragic news story as the two factors that finally compelled her to leave. Her church community did not support her decision, but it was through her personal relationship of faith that she found grace to press forward with getting herself and her kids to safety despite their disapproval. The news story was that of a local domestic abuse victim who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, in front of her daughter. Angel was so shaken by the story that she began to have recurring nightmares of herself being that woman. It was at that point the full realization hit her that she had to go.
The judge fulfilled her desire to have her life back. The divorce was finalized. The marriage was dissolved. She felt free….but only for a moment.
In her anticipation about this day, she’d not allowed herself to consider that it would hurt like hell. Metaphorically speaking, the surgery had been completed, but a long and painful post-surgical recovery awaited her.
She sank into a depression so severe that her doctor placed her on a medical leave of absence from work.
Though desperately needing time to heal and recover, she was riddled with fear that her job would terminate her because of the extended absence. As fate would have it, her fear was not unfounded. Termination is exactly what happened on her first day back at work. This was a devastating development, but still she persevered.
Love and concern for the wellbeing of her three children is the force she credits with keeping her from succumbing to total despair during this darkest of seasons. She eventually found another job, and later secured a house for her family through participation in Habitat for Humanity.
She was inspired to employ her natural artistic talent to use art as a healing medium through which to channel some of her pain. She’d been artistically inclined since childhood and at one time aspired to attend an art institute.
One day as she sat around the dinner table with her children, the idea for No Punching Bag was birthed. What started as a series of dinner discussions with her kids has grown into a fashion brand for social change which is beginning to garner both international and national recognition.
Her daughters inherited her artistic talent and learned to sew becoming teenage artists and fashion designers in their own right. Her youngest child and only son, has slightly different interests but shares in the family entrepreneurial spirit.
Angel has become well known in her community of Winston-Salem, NC for her advocacy for domestic violence awareness as well as the fashion shows that she hosts throughout the year. She is passionate about equipping others with knowledge and information that she lacked when she was a domestic violence victim.
The hard work she and her kids have poured into building their brand over the last few years was richly rewarded this past January when she was extended an invitation to have a select number of her designs featured in Paris Fashion week.
With the assistance of contributions from a Go Fund Me campaign, she was able to raise the necessary funds to make this life altering trip. She is currently working feverishly in countdown mode as she prepares to see she and her daughters’ designs displayed on the runway in New York City on September 8th. Her daughters were unable to accompany her to Paris, but will be with her for this trip.
As a young girl, Angel dreamed of being a fashion designer. Being entangled in a marriage that was rife with mental and physical abuse, there were times when she wasn’t sure how she would ever muster the strength to break free from a horrific domestic situation, support three children, and revisit the aspirations of childhood.
She readily acknowledges that it has not been easy.
It is from her that I learned that, the abused party often returns as many as seven times before leaving permanently. It’s because of her that I understand that there are unseen mental and psychological scars that accompany the physical ones. It is because of her that I understand the gas lighting and isolation from friends and family that are often part of these toxic relationships. It is because of her, that I’m much less likely to judge someone who takes a while to muster the courage to leave one of these incredibly violent marriages.
It is also because of her that I see the hope of overcoming and resilience. She embodies the reality that your past does not have to define your future….that even coming out of the most hellish situations, you can still chart a course to live the life you’ve always dreamed of rather than settling for the one you were told you could have.
Both her personal story, and the story of , No Punching Bag, are a work in progress….new chapters are still being written. But when she looks to the future in this season, she looks forward to a future filled with HOPE.
You can follow No Punching Bag on the internet at these locations: