TAMPA, FL -- Tony Gaskins Junior is a motivational speaker, best selling author, proud father, and loving husband.

But Tony has overcome many obstacles to get here. Growing up, he witnessed domestic abuse that he thought was a normal part of every household.

"Just like two boys would fight in the school yard, I figured mothers and fathers fought in the home" Tony explained.

He saw it throughout his neighborhood and in his extended family.

"Just seeing family members, whether it was cousins or aunts living with black eyes and bruises and broken ribs. I guess at a young age, it kind of was seen as a necessary evil, like apart of relationships or apart of love," Tony said.

And the examples didn't end there. As a football player, Tony said his teammates would talk about treating their women violently, as if it was a right of passage.

"A lot of my teammates abused their girlfriends, the upper classmen abused their girlfriends and would tell the freshman and sophomores like myself that they did it and this is what you have to do or this is what happens," Tony said.

Eventually, Tony became an abuser himself, verbally abusing his then girlfriend, trying to control her, until it escalated into physical violence.

"I never gave her a black eye, but yet it was still physical enough that it jars you. And afterwards you sit and say what did I just do? What just happened?" Tony asked.

Tony realized the domestic abuse was a behavior and he had to change.

"I looked in the mirror, and I knew that I had been battling with this, being abusive whether it be verbal or physical, and I knew I was raised better than that. I knew that I wanted to be loved for who I was not because of manipulation by guilt or coercion by fear. I wanted to be loved for Tony Gaskins. And I realized I had to become a man," Tony said.

He eventually left that toxic relationship and began to study the bible. As a son of a minister, Tony's father helped guide him through his Christian upbringing and his belief in the Lord.

"Just reading and learning OK, this is what love is, Corinthians 13 Ephesians 5. This is what it is to be a man: patient, temperate, understanding, giving, forgiving, that is when my life began to change," Tony said.

Soon after that, Tony met his wife, Sheree and eventually had their son, Tony Junior. But the changes and growth came slowly.

"A man can't give you, show a woman what he's never known. And that love is a learned behavior. So if you grow up learning that love is abuse, that's what you're going to give your partner. But when you learn that love is the complete opposite of abuse and that love speaks its own language and abuse isn't one of them, that's when you begin the growth and become a better man," Tony explained.

Today, Tony tries to spread his knowledge especially to men, who are pro-athletes or boys involved in local athletic programs.

"Do you think it's possible for any abuser to change?" asked ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan.

"I do believe so, any abuser. If you change the friends you're around, if you change the examples you're looking up to, then you change your life. So when you change, the things around you change," Tony answered.

And Tony warns women stuck in an abusive relationship. You must leave because the violence will only get worse.

"You'll be safer leaving than staying because that's a lost and confused individual. And although he may seem big and bad and tough, he's really crying on the inside. He's really hurting. And you leaving, not only will save yourself but you can also save him. Either way, you could die. If you feel like he's crazy enough to kill you if you leave, then please know and believe, that he's crazy enough to kill you, if you stay," Tony warned.


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