If you’re ready to hear one inspiring story, look to the life of Darius Weems. Darius has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a terminal genetic disorder that he already lost his older brother to. But if you think Darius is sitting around feeling sorry for himself, think again. He starred in the award-winning documentary "Darius Goes West," which showed him traveling from the East Coast to Los Angeles to raise awareness and getting his wheelchair decked out. All proceeds from the doc go to DMD research and Darius has raised more than two million dollars!!!
"Darius Goes West" won 28 film festival awards and Darius himself has traveled to more than 180 schools to spread awareness of DMD and share his inspiring motto: “Live Like You Are Living.” Now Darius has an album coming out later this year and three of the songs have already been released! (Psst — Grammys, pay attention!) We wanted to learn more about Darius and what's been going on in that beautiful life of his.
ACT: You're known as Big Daddy Weems. What does the nickname mean? We love it!
DARIUS: My family gave me the name Big Daddy when I was about five years old because I was a big kid. Lol. And I put it together with Weems to make my rapper name.
ACT: Can you tell us about your new album? And how did Bubba Sparxxx get involved?
DARIUS: My album is still in the works and should be ready by late summer/early fall. Right now, I have three songs on iTunes ("Learn to Love," Believe, and "So Turnt Up"). My music is very personal, because my inspiration for it comes from my life experiences, including the struggles I've been through.
My late brother, Mario, used to listen to a lot of rap music, and I liked it, too. When "Darius Goes West" got edited, [my friend] Logan [Smalley] and I wrote a few raps for the film, but those were written mostly to move the film along. After that, I got serious about writing music about my life and decided to use it to further inspire people.
I met Bubba Sparxxx when he performed last July at our 7th Annual DGW Weekend in Athens, GA, where I always perform. He was impressed with my work, and I hit it off with him and his manager (now my co-manager), Bobby Stamps. In January, Bobby and Bubba signed me to their label, New South Entertainment. Bubba sings on one of my new tracks, "Believe." I'm also working with Bubba's former producer, Duddy Ken to finish my first album.
ACT: You have raised over $2 million for DMD research. How did this happen and did you ever expect to raise this much money?
DARIUS: We raised some money right after the movie came out by selling DVDs and goslabi T-shirts [in the film, Darius mistakenly references wasabi as gosabi] But we raised the most money when me and my crew went back on the road for nine months in 2008 and 2009. We visited middle, high schools and colleges all over the U.S. and showed screenings. Having so many fans helped us to win a couple of big online voting contests and we donated the prize money to DMD research. Schools still raise money for our cause by taking the goslabi challenge which means eating a spoonful of wasabi like I did in the movie.
ACT: Your motto is “Live Like You Are Living.” You don’t want pity and are trying to spread the message that having a disability is not a road block. What are some common misconceptions of disabled people? And what can we do to avoid mistreating someone with a disability?
DARIUS: Common misconceptions about people with disabilities are that we are helpless and not very intelligent. Also, just because I have a terminal illness, people think I'm suffering, but I'm living life every day to the fullest. The best way to avoid mistreating people with disabilities is to treat us like you treat everyone else...like we are human beings.
ACT: You're an inspiration to so many people. Have there been times where people have taken your message so deeply to heart that it also inspires you?
DARIUS: I am constantly inspired by people. I get a lot of emails and FB messages from fans, and many have faced terrible tragedies. When they tell me that my story inspires them to be strong and carry on, that touches my heart. Many times at screenings kids who are financially disadvantaged will donate $1 to my cause and I am amazed by that. And last year, parents of a middle school girl with a wheelchair sent me an email saying that after their daughter's school watched "Darius Goes West," her classmates, who never invited her anywhere, called and invited her to ride on a St. Patrick's Day parade float with them. Her peers went out of their way to make the float wheelchair accessible so she could take part in the event.
ACT: What do you think is your greatest accomplishment so far? What do you have in mind that you still want to accomplish?
DARIUS: My greatest accomplishment to date is motivating and empowering hundreds of thousands of young people and changing so many lives by setting a good example. I'm also super proud of me and my crew for raising awareness of my disease among hundreds of thousands of students across the nation AND $2 million for Duchenne muscular dystrophy research. Right now I'm working hard in hopes that my music career will take off because I want to inspire people with my raps. And a Grammy would be nice! Lol.