The end of July marks three years since QueenAfi lost her 19-year-old daughter in an act of violence, similar to what the anti-domestic violence activist often implored her and other young people to avoid in their relationships.
The Smile 4 Smiley Love Movement, named for the deceased mother of one known to many as Smiley, has since grown out of that tragedy, primarily to help victims of domestic and gun violence manage trauma. Those efforts will continue on the afternoon of July 28 during an annual cookout and “celebration of love, life, laughter, and legacy” at Fort Lincoln Funeral Home and Cemetery in Brentwood, Md.
“My daughter knew so many people and I knew so many people. I had to find ways to manage spirits and emotions,” said QueenAfi, founder of Domestic Violence Wears Many Tags, a Ward 7-based educational resource for domestic violence and mental health, in existence since 2008, that’s dedicated to helping women, men, and children restore and preserve a stable family home environment.
In the early morning hours of July 30, 2016, QueenAfi received a call from her mother, who told her that police officers visited her with bad news. Upon QueenAfi’s arrival, officers confirmed what she said she thought to have been true all along: miles away, in Marbury Plaza on Good Hope Road in Southeast, a young man with whom Smiley had a daughter, shot and killed her. This incident, QueenAfi said, followed several attempts to raise Smiley’s awareness about domestic violence.
From what QueenAfi described as Smiley’s unwavering support of DVWMT, she acquired her granddaughter, less than a year old at the time, from Child Protective Services, and quickly made her way to a community event scheduled for that afternoon. QueenAfi said no one knew what had transpired that morning until the end of the panel discussions, when she made the public announcement.
For up to a year after Smiley’s funeral, QueenAfi maintained that stoic disposition, mainly to properly channel the energy of grief.
“That’s how I came up with the Smile 4 Smiley Love Movement,” she said, requesting thatThe Informernot use Smiley’s birth name in this article.
“We could turn tragedy into love. This is my daughter helping. This is her pushing me and telling me that she has my back throughout the movement. This is us getting therapy and helping people grieve positively.”
Data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience some form of intimate partner violence — including physical abuse and rape.
Signs often include accusations of seemingly menial offenses, restriction of outside activity, and control of household finances. For some, overcoming domestic violence has become a struggle in itself; an annual census of domestic violence shelters conducted last year found that, without adequate funding, local programs often fall short in helping victims escape dangerous conditions.
From DVWMT’s inception up until her murder, Smiley counted among one of the movement’s most ardent supporters, often quelling her mothers’ fears about her message falling on deaf ears and speaking with friends about what she heard at public forums.
In the years since Smiley’s death, women and men in the D.C. metropolitan area have spoken out against the epidemic of domestic violence. Last September, protesters converged on the National Mall on two occasions, one of which centered the Violence Against Women Act, at the time up for renewal.
Locally, D.C. Councilmembers Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) and Anita Bonds (D-At large) authored legislation requiring barbers and cosmetologists to decipher the signs of domestic abuse in their clients. That bill never moved beyond the D.C. Council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development.
All the while, QueenAfi has continued along on her tour of local high schools and community centers, helping people of all ages recognize the potential for domestic abuse in their relationships before it’s too late. Among the many teenagers and young adults she encounters, QueenAfi said, she sees a willingness to help one another that could bring unintended consequences.
“Young people are falling in love with each other’s trauma. This is a group that just wants to help someone and it’s costing lives,” she told The Informer.
“Young people are still not being taught about the many tags of domestic violence — like verbal, financial, and emotional abuse,” said QueenAfi. “We’re not where we need to be to educate young people in the household, community, and faith-based environments.”