Philanthropist & Community Advocate
When asked how important it is to give back to her community, Angie Blank responded: “It is something I wake up every day to do.” Now that her children are grown, she spends her time giving back to the community. Motivated by personal experiences, she serves on the board for The Warrior Alliance, an organization that serves the needs of veterans transitioning out of the military, and is an adamant supporter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Your immediate family is in close geographic proximity?
Yes, my sister lives here in Atlanta, and we are very, very close. We talk every day, and we do everything together. She has two kids, and our kids are very close as well. My mother lives in Marietta. She lived in North Carolina for almost thirty years and when her husband passed away a couple of years ago, she moved back to Georgia.
Trusting is a challenge. Tell me about that.
Yes, trust is a huge 5-letter word in my vocabulary. It has been integral to the relationships that I have been involved in. Any kind of relationship—a friend, a business, a partner—none of those can be successful unless you have trust, it’s the #1 ingredient. Once trust is gone, it is extremely hard to repair and rebuild relationships.
You are at heart an athlete. How did that come about?
Well, growing up, my mother always required me and my sister to be active. My mother played basketball when she was young, so she was sort of a tomboy. I loved basketball, and I started playing on a boys’ team (there wasn’t a girls’ team where I lived at that time). I played it through my sophomore year of high school. Then I decided to become a cheerleader for the basketball team. I also played softball, but I didn’t have a love relationship with the sport, and I was a terrible softball player. I was always competitive, and I still am very competitive. I love sports, really all sports. I think they are so good for our youth to participate in to help them learn lessons about life in general. Sports help reveal character; teach the importance of teamwork; require them to manage time between practices/games and homework; teach discipline for sticking it out through times when they don’t feel like it or would rather be at a friend’s party; develop better habits for taking care of their bodies with healthier eating and exercising; and probably most important—sports teach the lessons of both winning and losing . . . always be respectful of your opponent, take the lessons learned and move forward. Involved my children in sports when they were very young. My oldest daughter, Morgan, was a competitive cheerleader and ran cross country and track. She was very much a girly-girl, so she wasn’t ever interested in participating in “ball” sports. Morgan graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Interior Design and is married to her high school sweetheart. They also live in Atlanta.My two younger children, my son and my youngest daughter, both played soccer on club teams in Atlanta and at their high schools. We love soccer. My son, Drew, played through high school. He didn’t want to play in college because he wanted to go to an SEC school with a big football team. He is attending graduate school at UGA (just graduated in December 2018) and plans to earn a Master’s Degree in Sports Management and Policy. My youngest daughter, Emily, committed to play soccer at LSU during her sophomore year of high school but decided that she didn’t want to be that far from home during her senior year of high school. Her best friend on her club team was planning to attend Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, and she decided to attend Wofford with her. Fortunately, she attended on a full-ride for one year, but then, she too decided she wanted to attend a big SEC school like her brother. She is a junior at UGA studying Sports Management.
Where were you raised, and where did you attend college?
I grew up in Marietta, Georgia and went to McEachern High School. I lived in the same house pretty much my entire life and was married right out of high school. We met in the sixth grade and dated most of high school. My ex-husband went into the U.S. Air Force right out of high school, and his first assignment was Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. When he finished his tour in Okinawa, he was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, SC. He served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm during 1990-1991. I attended USC-Sumter while we were living in Sumter.
Does your philanthropic focus on the military stem from your early exposure to the military?
Yes, I have a sincere passion for working with veterans, specifically helping them transition out of the military—not just into a civilian life but a purposeful life. I saw too many fathers and mothers leave their young children when Operation Desert Shield began. Some wives were pregnant, and it made me so sad to see these families being separated for long periods of time. The sacrifices these brave men and women (as well as their families) commit to in order to defend and protect our nation and our freedoms are the most selfless acts any human can give to his or her nation. I serve on the board for The Warrior Alliance. They work with different veteran service organizations to help with education, employment and any type of needs that veterans have when they transition out of the military into the mainstream. It really helps. I prefer to focus on resources that help provide a more fulfilling life, and I believe that, in turn, reduces the number of suicides. The reality is that 80 percent of our veterans transition fine and move on to have a purposeful and fulfilling life. But 20 percent struggle. I think we need to help change the narrative. All veterans should not be stigmatized when they apply for a job. Often, veterans are considered “broken.” The public may see or know they have been deployed to war zones and put a label on them that they will have issues and think they have broken lives. The reality is that the huge majority do not, and they possess so many exceptional skills such as teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance, strength and resilience. The list is never ending…
You were raised in a traditional home, with one exception, your father. Tell me about him.
My father was Larry Brantley, born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He was one of five children and was a truck driver. I was very much a daddy’s girl. He was also an alcoholic. He died at 47 from alcoholism. My heart was broken when my father died.
How old were you?
I was 21. I think the hardest part for me is that he never got to see his grandchildren and now his great granddaughter. He would be so proud. He is proud of and still with you, Angie. I know. I know he is. My son looks just like him. He was a very, very sweet man. So kind and so gentle. You were his baby. Yes, I was. He took me everywhere. He was determined I was going to be a boy when my mom was pregnant with me. Obviously, I wasn’t, so he decided that he would just treat me like a boy. He took me fishing, took me to ball games, took me everywhere. He was a very sweet man.
Do you love fishing?
No. I don’t! I’m very impatient!
The second man you married had similar characteristics to what you had seen growing up?
Yes, that is what is so weird. I should have been able to recognize alcoholism, but we didn’t live together before we got married. I didn’t have a clue that he was an alcoholic but found out very quickly after we were married. I was five months pregnant with my son when we were married even though we had dated for two years. It was a long and rough ten years of an emotionally abusive marriage. I think I said to myself almost every week “I have got to get out of this.” I just couldn’t find the strength to do it. I didn’t want to go through another divorce. I was terrified he would try to take my kids away from me. I was worried about them being away from me. I eventually had a breaking point and said, “I can do this.” I did it. The divorce took about two and a half years. He became physically abusive during that time. There are some days that I look back now and wonder how I got out of it alive honestly.
At that time, you supported your family and continued to work in marketing, branding actually?
Yes. I am not sure how. It was a rough period, but I continued to work straight on through all of it. I guess your maternal instincts kick in, and you know you have to do what you have to do. God gets you through it. I couldn’t have made it any other way.
Did you tell anyone?
My sister knew. A couple of my close friends knew something was going on. It was just an incredibly difficult period of my life.
You divorced from an alcoholic and left an abusive marriage with three little ones while working full-time. Did anyone help you?
It was all on me. At the time, my mother was in North Carolina with her husband. She was taking care of him because he was very sick. The most challenging part about the situation was that my salary was based on commission only. So, if I didn’t sell, I didn’t get paid. It was also during the 2008 recession, and marketing was where most companies were cutting back. Fortunately, my sales were not affected too badly.
Were you scared?
I was terrified. Every month, I would just have to figure it out. It could be a bad month. It could be a good month. You just never knew. I am just thankful my kids never had a clue that anything was good or bad or indifferent.
How did you learn to harness that fear and move forward?
I have no clue. I held so much in during that time because I never wanted them to have any fear or for them to have any clue that anything was going on. It was just a really horrible time. I think part of it was just a mother’s instinct to protect her cubs. God never gives us more than we can handle, although I think He tests me from time to time!
When wasn’t it so hard?
I hate to say it but probably after he passed away.
Because you were no longer frightened?
Yes. Every day, I feared for my life. He had so much anger, and alcohol fueled it even more.
Did your children know anything?
Unfortunately, they did. I’d like to say they didn’t, but they did. My two youngest, that were his children, were nine and ten at the time that he passed away. He passed away nine months after our divorce was final, from alcoholism—at the same age as my dad. They were both 47 years old. All three of the children witnessed way more than any child ever should. There were so many traumatic experiences that probably shaped who each of us are today, and it breaks my heart for my kids that I probably didn’t protect them enough, but I did the best I could.
Was your personal experience the reason for your support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)?
Yes. When Arthur and I went to an NFL owners meeting in 2013, Mothers Against Drunk Driving did a presentation. They listed what each of the different teams were doing and the extent of their involvement with MADD. The Falcons were one of the only teams that weren’t engaged in the program. So, I asked him at lunch that day why they weren’t. And he said, “Well, if that’s something you want to do, that can be your project.” So, I started right away. Today, the Falcons organization is above-and-beyond, more involved than any other NFL team. I wanted to get my kids involved in the teen program to help educate them on the dangers of alcoholism and drunk driving. They were getting close to the driving age. I went to what was, at the time, called GATI, Georgia Teen Influencers. There, I met one of my best friends now, Amy Sands. She brought her two daughters. Her family had just lost their son, Tyler Sands, who was a senior at Clemson University, to a repeat drunk driver on his 22nd birthday. We became instant friends. Our goal is MADD’s mission, that there be ‘no more victims,’ and we really want to educate youth on drunk driving. There are so many alternative methods now for transportation.
How do you “pay it forward?”
For me, it is not just about giving a check. It’s about boots on the ground. Last weekend, I physically worked on a service project that was important. I want to be a part of initiatives that I believe in. I want to be hands-on. My heart and soul are truly invested in all the work that we do. Whether it’s with MADD or whether it’s with a veteran service organization, I really want to be able to pay it forward physically as well. I need to know that I am helping to make a positive difference.
How much of your day is dedicated to giving back?
Probably 70 percent of it. It is something I wake up every day to do. That’s my purpose in life. God has blessed me with so much more than I deserve. I want to give back where I can.
How did you meet Arthur?
That’s kind of a funny story. Our sons played on the same soccer team, Concorde Fire, here in Atlanta. We were standing on the sidelines and just started talking. After he walked off, one of the dads came over and said, “You know who that is, don’t you?” And I said, “I think it’s one of the dads.” And he said, “No. Do you know who that is?” And I said, “I think it’s one of the dads.” And he said, “That’s Arthur Blank,” and I said, “I don’t know who Arthur Blank is,” which is kind of embarrassing, being from Atlanta, that I didn’t know. But he said, “Home Depot . . . Atlanta Falcons,” and I said, “I’m sorry . . . I don’t know.” I’ve always watched college football, but I’d never been to an Atlanta Falcons game—well, actually I went to one Atlanta Falcons game a long, long time ago in Fulton County Stadium, a very, very long time ago. So, at the next soccer game, he came over and started talking. My daughter was going to the Falcons game that day with her best friend, whose family has been season ticket holders forever. I told Arthur where Emily was going because she came up to me and said she was leaving. He said, “Well, I’m getting ready to leave to go to the game, too.” He said, “She can come to the suite and sit with us if she wants to.” He gave me his card with his phone number, so she could let him know. She didn’t end up going to his suite because she said she would feel weird since she didn’t know him. I sent him a note and thanked him for the invitation and explained why my daughter declined and told him the invitation was very kind. He said, “How about you bring your family to a game?” I offered him two dates that would work. He said, “How about both?” So, we went to both! That was in December 2011. He asked me out to lunch in February-February 7, 2012. We went to lunch that day and then started dating. We were married June 11, 2016.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want my kids and God to be proud of the work that I am doing. I know my mom is very proud of me and that fills my heart with joy. I want to make a significant difference. I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing to say that I’m just doing something; I want to make a difference. Ultimately, I pray that lives are saved and laws are changed with drunk, drugged and distracted driving. If I can be remembered for just being an advocate for one state, I will take that; however, I would love to know that I have made a difference throughout the country. And with our veterans, we have so many men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country to defend our freedoms, thank you . . . thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for your commitment, service and the ultimate sacrifice. I just want my kids, one day when I’m not around, to say, “I’m proud of my mom.” When you are quiet and think clearly, is there something that you wish for? I wish that there would be more focus on mental health and wellness for our country. There is a need for more research on mental health, and even though mental health does not always result in alcohol or drug abuse, there is a correlation between mental health, personal life circumstances/experiences and addiction. I think we all have different chapters of our lives that form our story, form our book so to speak. And I believe we all have some type of baggage that we learn from. Our different life experiences and circumstances are what make us ultimately who we are. We have to learn to live by the motto, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I don’t believe God puts on us more than we can handle. We just have to learn to keep the faith and press on. My prayers, personally, would be for more people with mental health or addiction issues to seek help and not be ashamed to ask for it.
What inspires you?
Family . . . Anything to do with my family. I was just blessed with my first grandchild, a granddaughter, and that is the best experience in the world. She is truly a gift from God! I am in heaven. I love being with my family, so anything that we do as a family experience. I also love the philanthropic work that I do. It is very inspiring to me and gets me up and going every day. I love being involved in the different types of philanthropic work that I am doing.
What advice can you share with young women?
Always be true to yourself. I think that is the most important thing; to always know who you are, what your values are, what your morals are and never, ever settle for less. In relationships, be strong, be resilient. If you see a situation is getting bad, get out. I have gone through personal experiences with alcoholism where I thought that I could change someone, and I couldn’t. I learned firsthand that you cannot change someone, nor should you try to. You can’t be a parent to a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a spouse. If you are going into a relationship thinking that you can change someone, or if you think a person will change because you get married or because you have a child, it generally does not happen. In most cases, those situations actually end up getting worse. My advice would be that when you see the signs that you need to get out, you need to do that so that you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else. I think, as a mother, you have to protect your kids ultimately. If you don’t, no one else will. There were many nights that I prayed to God that if He would save my kids, if He would get my kids out of this situation, if He would get me out of this situation, that I would do anything I could to help others. This is why I’m doing what I am.