By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Darius goes to West
Young visitor inspires staff to reach youth
Faculty members from various Forsyth County schools applaud as Darius Weems appears on stage at West Forsyth High School on Wednesday after watching Weems's documentary film, "Darius Goes West." - photo by Autumn McBride
Hundreds of Forsyth County educators cheered, cried and waited in line to meet Darius Weems.

He’s not a famous actor, but the 20-year-old has over the past several years become a celebrity in his own right through the documentary “Darius Goes West.”

Weems, who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, stopped by West Forsyth High School on Wednesday to share his story with special education teachers and staff.

“It enables us to look at kids we have in our classrooms too and realize what they’re going through outside of school,” said Vickery Middle School teacher Gregory Whitt.

About 600 educators spent their professional development day watching the 90-minute documentary about Weems’ trip from his home in Athens to California.

The film shows Weems, then 15, and 11 of his closest friends on a road trip to convince MTV to customize his wheelchair on one of the network’s programs.

But the story has become a motivational tool, delving into the daily life of someone dealing with a debilitating disease.

The film won nearly 30 awards, but Weems said the real honor has been meeting hundreds of thousands of students and teachers.

“This whole thing just had me realize that it’s not just about myself. It’s about helping others,” he said.

Logan Smalley, editor and director of the film, met Weems and his older brother, Mario, nearly 15 years ago when he volunteered for a special needs camp in Athens.

Though the same disease claimed Mario Weems’ life about a decade ago, Smalley remained a friend and companion to Darius Weems.

“When you hang out with Darius, you see an incredible example of life promises,” he said. “He values friendship, his family and making a difference more than anything — and he does it every day.”

After the 2005 release of the movie, Weems’ travels have continued. He and his group have shown the documentary and spoken to crowds nationwide in the hopes of raising money to find a cure for the disease.

“My favorite part of the movie is everything we’ve done since then,” said Jason Hees, one of 11 members on the crew.

To date, nearly $2 million has been raised for research. The story became a quick inspiration for Forsyth educators.

Grace Privette, a speech pathologist for the school system, said watching the video is “going to help students desensitize the stigma about being disabled.”

“Kids really experience him as a real person, as an individual, and it could break down some of those barriers,” she said.

Forsyth staff who attended the viewing got to meet Weems and received a free DVD of the documentary, with just one caveat.  

“Consider it kind of a deal with us to tell another teacher. We want these DVDs to get out,” Smalley said. “One day, we’re going to reach all the youth of America. That’s the way we’re going to do this is through the schools.”

Added Weems: “Kids are going to be the ones that cure this disease in the near future. It’s cool to just inspire kids and maybe with me inspiring them, it will make them want to get out and help the community and help other people.”