The stories Queen Afi Gaston shares while touring high schools to talk about the plague of domestic violence have always been personal. She was a victim, and an abuser herself.
And in the year since her daughter was found shot, with her own two-month-old daughter in her arms, on a bed shared with the boyfriend who would admit to causing her death, those lessons have taken on a much deeper level about the ripple effects of domestic violence.
Before, when Gaston would tour and talk about domestic violence, her daughter, Anaiona, would join her. Now all she has left is her daughter’s persistence to keep spreading the message, the mission to raise her granddaughter and stop the cycle of domestic violence.
“What [he] did to this child has already affected her for the rest of her life… she’s already a victim of domestic violence,” Gaston says of her granddaughter, Blake.
As Gaston has mourned her daughter’s death, she’s been raising Blake, continuing her talks, and fighting a custody battle.
Malik Fields has been sentenced to ten years for Gaston’s death. He said it was an accident, and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in February.
Gaston freely admits to having to face her own demons, including the ones her daughter was exposed to.
“She was familiar at a young age [with domestic violence]… and my behavior started to spill into her life,” Gaston said of her daughter.
Hoping Anaiona would learn from her mother’s experiences, Gaston brought her daughter to many events to help raise awareness. What Gaston didn’t expect was that her daughter would become the backbone of the entire movement.
“I would not have succeeded in the school system and with this conversation – with girls, with young men – without her… I have succeeded because of her,” Gaston says of her daughter. “I was the underdog – she pushed me.”
Despite that, her mother still saw her fall into an abusive relationship.
“She was love,” Gaston says of her daughter, “And her love was so pure and so strong that it could probably overwhelm another person.”
Gaston recalled her daughter’s ability to love unconditionally and without judgement, especially so in her first relationship with Fields.
“We think we are gonna be with the first love forever and ever,” Gaston said. “And many of us are not – but she was in that space, and she saw it lasting forever.”
According to the affidavit for Fields’ arrest, the two were having a “deep conversation” when the victim shaped her hand to appear like a gun, gestured at Fields and said “pop, pop.” Fields, who had just unloaded one round from his gun, pointed the weapon at Gaston, said “pop pop,” and pulled the trigger. A bullet went through Gaston’s skull, killing her with their child still in her lap.
Fields said he had not expected the gun to fire. Calls to Fields’ attorney were not returned.
After seeing the evidence firsthand, Gaston believes her daughter’s murder was an accident.
“He didn’t know, nor did my daughter know that that gun was going to go off.”
According to Gaston, based on the behavior Fields displayed after-the-fact, she believes “he had no clue.”
But while she believes Fields may not have intentionally killed her daughter, the abuse still makes itself obvious in the moment the gun was pointed at her daughter.
“It’s a disgrace,” Gaston said. “[He] shouldn’t have had no gun around my daughter or [his] daughter… makes me think he was comfortable doing this and had probably done it before.”
Though she believes it was an accident, it hasn’t stopped Gaston from wishing there had been a reason, to make sense of it all.
“Tell me my daughter tried to physically harm [him], give me a reason… [he] killed her because she was sitting on the bed holding her daughter.”
At least, Gaston said, some good may have come of it.
“Her death woke up a lot of people,” Gaston said. “It’s woken up a lot of her friends who were in similar relationships.”
Though Fields has been sentenced to prison, he is persisting in a fight for custody of his daughter upon his release. Blake Gaston has been in her grandmother’s care since her mother was killed.
If Gaston wins the custody battle of her granddaughter, she is unsure if she wants to remain in touch with Fields once he is released.
“Blakey is going to have birthdays, things are going to happen in this baby’s life… and I want to make sure she has everything that is going to balance everything for her,” she said.
Knowing the persistent demons of domestic violence, Gaston says she wants Blake to know her father, and hopes Fields get the help he needs.
“I will not take change or greatness away from nobody… even me, and I didn’t deserve it, but I worked for it.” Gaston said. “There’s always room for improvement.. the question is, do you want it?”