Entertainment TED Fellows

How Darius Weems became a rap star and clinical trial maverick: ABC Nightline to feature this TED Fellow

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Tonight, as those of you in the US pull out of the tryptophan haze, we highly recommend that you ask for your family’s remote control and turn to ABC’s Nightline. Tonight, the show features an hour-long special on TED Fellow Darius Weems, an advocate for those suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Darius was diagnosed with the genetic disease — which causes the muscles of the legs, arms and heart to seize — at age 5. By age 9, he required a walker. By age 12, he needed a wheelchair.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is indeed a brutal disease. Darius’ brother, Mario Weems, succumbed to it at age 19. Sadly, most people with it do not live past 25.

Logan Smalley, now the director of TED-Ed, had been friends with Mario since the second grade. Before Mario passed away, he asked Logan to keep an eye on Darius. It’s a mission Logan has taken very seriously. In fact, in 2005, Logan orchestrated a 7,000-mile cross-country roadtrip for Darius. The plan: to get to California so that MTV’s Pimp My Ride could trick out Darius’ wheelchair. Smalley captured the trip on film for the documentary Darius Goes West. While the wheelchair never got pimped, Darius did get to see the Grand Canyon and frolic in the Pacific Ocean. In the meantime, the documentary raised $2 million for DMD research.

Last year, at age 22, Darius signed a record deal with New South Entertainment, and opted to take part in a clinical trial at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore that could yield treatment for those with DMD. But just days before his 23rd birthday, he was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. Logan and the rest of Darius’ close friends hatched a plan: What if they could harness the power of the internet to make Darius’ song, “Thank You for 23,” a hit?

They created this video for the snippet of the song that was recorded, and kept Darius off the internet so he wouldn’t discover it. Meanwhile, they invited the world to participate in an online surprise party for Darius, by pre-ordering the single and sharing photos of him. On the morning of his birthday, Darius’ song hit #36 on the iTunes Hip Hop chart. He cried tears of joy as his friends shared the news with him.

Last summer, Darius embarked on a 30-day “Believe” tour, with, we think, much more heart to it than Justin Bieber’s tour of the same name. Darius traveled to 11 states, speaking in schools about both his disease and his music. Tonight’s Nightline will chart Darius’ tour. And it will also examine the clinical trial that he is taking part in, which is investigating whether sildenafil—the active ingredient in Viagra—could be used to boost deteriorating muscles in those with DMD. The special promises to be a moving hour of television, one that will make you feel truly thankful. As Darius tells ABC, “As long as I’m here and being able to motivate people and being strong for them, hey, I’m living my life to the fullest.”

Tune in to Nightline at 11:35 pm EST to watch. And if you miss it, head to ABC’s resource page for lots more information about DMD and what you can do to help find treatment for this disease.