An Open Letter to Ellen

Dear Ellen,

My name is Lora Branca, I’m 42 years old and I live in Tallahassee, Florida. Having watched your show for quite sometime now, I have always been a fan of you and your remarkably positive outlook on life. No matter what, you seem to find the good and inspire others to love more and hate less. I admire that. You have given me (and many others) strength during the darkest hours…

I recently watched an interview you did with ABC. It was during this interview that I learned you had been affected by a similar tragedy as the one my family recently experienced. In your interview, you said:

“In an instant, she was gone…It shifted my entire focus.” You were commenting on the devastating impact that losing your girlfriend had on you…

On November 7th, 2014, a distracted driver killed my son, Anthony Branca. Anthony was only 19 years old, exactly one month shy of his 20th birthday. He was killed because someone else chose to make driving less than important. In an instant, he was gone. It shifted our entire focus…

Anthony was a lot like you, Ellen. He had a knack for making people laugh. He lit up every room he entered. Anthony was the person his friends called on a random Tuesday night to hang out, because he could turn any boring night into pure fun. He was a kid who never took himself seriously and always fought for the underdog.

In middle school, a school bully approached him and a friend and said “Hey Anthony, why are you sitting with this girl? She’s weird!” Without missing a beat, Anthony replied “Lay off, we’re all weird! Go away!” This is the kind of compassion you hope your children display, but often times goes missed.

As a senior in high school, Anthony was tasked with selecting an underclassman and writing him or her a letter, to be delivered to that student upon graduation. Shortly after Anthony was killed, Chloe (the girl Anthony chose to write 3 years previously) received her letter from Anthony.

Among the many heartfelt words within Anthony’s letter to Chloe, the ending was what resonated very powerfully to us all. Anthony concluded his letter to Chloe by saying, “Nothing is impossible. Impossible is a word used by the weak to justify giving up. Never give up!... Life is what you make of it. The question is not who will let you, but rather who will stop you.”

When we lost Anthony, much like your loss, we were devastated. Our entire “happy life” as we had known it had been upheaved. A once beautiful existence was instantaneously shattered and transformed into indescribable amounts of grief and pain. An un-fillable void had been left in Anthony’s place.

Losing Anthony made us question our own existence and what to do next. How could someone who was seemingly the embodiment of life be gone? And Why?

Later in your interview, you stated: “I thought, ‘It would be great just to pick up the phone and call up God and talk about this.’” I can relate to that feeling… To this day I find myself grappling with questions I cannot answer. Unfortunately, I don’t know God’s telephone number either. If you ever find it, will you please share it with me?

We would later learn that the driver who killed Anthony was not paying full attention to the road; he was distracted by “something”. Anthony had done everything right that day and had obeyed all the traffic laws; yet still he paid with his life. It was senseless then, and continues to feel senseless to me today.

Ultimately, we had two choices: we could give up, and remain silently complacent in our “new normal”, or, we could do something about it…

It took some time for us to realize that Anthony had given us all the confidence we needed to win the war we were about to wage against distracted driving. His spirit gave us all the love and laughter that we would need to attack this issue and share with others. His letter to Chloe taught us to believe that impossible is a word used by the weak to justify giving up. Consequently, we vowed that we would never give up.

Distracted driving is the leading cause of death among teenagers (surpassing drunk driving) and the numbers are trending upward. The truth is that these numbers are likely even higher than can be calculated because distracted driving remains extremely underreported and difficult to prove.

In May of 2015, about 6 months after Anthony’s death, we started a non-profit organization. The Anthony Phoenix Branca Foundation is dedicated to saving lives, raising awareness on the consequences of distracted driving with the ultimate goal of inspiring the end of this deadly behavior all together. Some may say that what we’ve set out to do is “impossible”. We however, know differently, #BecauseAnthony.

Ellen, the Anthony Phoenix Branca Foundation is starting THE revolution that will end distracted driving. We’re waging war and building a #BandanaArmy of citizens that support our mission, but we need YOUR help to spread the word!

It won’t be until people acknowledge the true consequences of this behavior that they begin to view videos posted on social media (filmed while driving) with the same disdain that most would view a drunk driver. It won’t be until society confronts these forms of media with contempt that we eradicate the issue and save more lives. The fact is, everyone should be shouting, “My life is worth more than a text message or your Snapchat.” We’re on a mission to upheave these social norms and change people’s minds for the better!

Anthony’s dad, Demetrius, has been traveling all over Florida giving presentations to teens and adults. He’s shared Anthony’s story with many, however with YOUR help we’d have the ability to reach many more nationally… With YOUR help, we can save more lives and further the revolution’s success. Together, we can ensure that no one else’s Anthony is stolen.

Ellen, we love and support you and everything you do for this world. Please help us bring attention to distracted driving. Together, we can win the war. Together, we can end distracted driving. The life you save could even be your own.

We want you to join our #BandanaArmy, Ellen!! Learn more here.

Sending you tons of love and admiration,

Lora Branca

PS. I know you’re friends with people, like the Kardashians, who are filmed on their phones while driving a lot. Can you express your love and concern for their safety and others and ask them to stop? After all, it takes an army!