Darius Goes to the Caribbean Thanks to Ellen "The Generous"
Written By Cynthia Lechan-Goodman
Brothers and brotherhood–intertwined with love and blood for centuries. A special bond of friendship, support, rallies together in revelry and devotion to a cause. For Logan Smalley, befriending two brothers while volunteering at Project Reach, a summer camp for children with special needs, propelled his life in a brotherhood experience that has surpassed even the merry men, the three musketeers and embodies the spirit of the1969 Hollies song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
“I was 13 years old and my mother made me volunteer,” remembers Logan. “I liked it so much I stayed all summer.” Logan found himself happily choosing to give up “bumming” because “the kids at camp know the important things in life…. Money, power, these things are not bad, but they melt away and mean nothing when people are enjoying each other having fun in kindness and compassion in a celebratory manner rather than competitive, ” Logan says.
In the camp Logan befriended Mario Weems, also 13, (“We bonded right away”) and little brother Darius just 5. The two brothers shared the plight of Duchene Muscular Dystrophy(DMD), the most common genetic disorder that affects children worldwide with 100% fatality rate– usually by early teens or twenties. “Before he died” Logan explains, “Mario asked me to take care of Darius.” The mutual respect and love between Mario and his zany little brother and Logan can only be described as an amazing brotherly bond.
Joined in spirit and camaraderie by 11 other college-aged camp counselors and friends, Logan and Darius set a hot plan in motion. “I’ve always been a fan of storytelling and saw the necessity to do a customized film for the family about Darius. But then it became about ideals,” Logan explains. “The courageous spirit and charm of westward ho, the celebration of Darius’ quality of life and pimping his wheelchair as a symbol of it, taking Darius to see some of the world while he can, to evaluate wheelchair accessibility across the US, to raise awareness of DMD, especially expose young people and motivate them to help find a cure, to demonstrate that anyone just like Darius can achieve beyond others’ limited expectations.”
Understanding how very precious every day is, especially when you are facing a life-threatening illness, these young teens were determined to put aside their own desires and help Darius to live his dreams—the ultimate brotherly love. But Logan and the others consider themselves the lucky ones to have Darius in their lives. “Darius teaches us how to celebrate life, having a blast together. There’s no effort to things when you are around him. Darius says you’re here in life to make something of yourself. He creates positive surroundings–he is a positive person.”
Logan and the other young men are there to support their friend through the trip and beyond like a brother all the way—lifting him into bed, to the toilet, whatever they need to do to help him…with mutual love and respect. Says Darius, “They showed me lots of love like a brother, my true friends. They could do anything for the summer but took time off to take me on the journey.”
And Darius is always looking out for his ‘brothers” worldwide. About the movie, he says, “It’s not about me trying to make a movie about me. It’s for people who’ve got the disease to show them how much you can do. Cure this disease, spread the word, and make it happen.”
Besides grand ideals, brotherhood, and fraternity, the trip (and film) had moment to moment peak experiences–like D’s first ride in a hot air balloon, his first sight of the Grand Canyon, his first taste of wasabi(or, as Darius calls it… goslabi!), his first trip to the beach and the ocean waves and being upright in the ocean, meeting TV stars, all with brotherly good natured banter, teasing, laughter.
With characteristic humility Logan credits others before his own efforts and abilities. “My mom taught me to inject caring and passion into what entertains you.” He is overwhelmed with the support he and the crew received around the country with the only downside “discovering that Darius couldn’t enter many ordinary places like a gas station in his wheelchair.” “Darius is looking out for the next generation, his altruism is inspirational to us—to everyone. The movie raised 1.5 million and Darius gave it away. Any 18-year old might have made a lot of other decisions with that money.”
Logan describes the film as a cause. “We’re still trying to reach that ideal—a cure for DMD. So we are going to ramp it up. We are celebrating 19 years with Darius. That’s the age his brother Mario died. From Darius’19th birthday- July 22nd to the next July 22nd “Darius Goes West”, a charitable subsidiary of Charley’s Fund (www. charlysfund. com), plans to raise 17 million dollars by selling 1 million DVDs. All proceeds are totally non-profit. DVD’s sell for $20: 17 for research the other $3 to make more DVD’s. Logan feels young people are ready to “give back”, have dedication to a cause but just need to be shown what, where and how to do it.
Logan Smalley has not just created a family remembrance piece but a brilliant work of art and humanity. Smalley composed and plays the piano soundtrack and there are heartfelt rap lyrics by Darius. Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life has been acclaimed nationwide, winning at least 28 awards at around 35 festivals and has fulfilled requirements to be nominated for an Oscar! And rolling? Still! A new trip for Darius and Logan is rolling on with new places to see, educational stops to make. He’s proud of an interactive school program under way that stems from his documentary.(www.dgwknowaboutit.com).
While watching MTV’s Pimp My Ride, a favorite of Darius and Logan, the boys were struck with the idea to “pimp” Darius’s wheelchair. Soon Logan was planning to take Darius, an Athens native who’d never ventured out of his home town, on a 70,000 mile cross country trek in a rented wheelchair accessible RV to the show’s producers in LA.
Being offered a gift of a Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Solstice (www.celebritycruises.com) from eleven-time Emmy award -winning comedienne, television host and actress, Ellen DeGeneres(www.ellen.warnerbros.com, left the Darius crew in awe. Raising national awareness via her television show was more than they could have asked, but having the opportunity to take Darius on the high seas was a dream come true. Ellen, realizing that DMD is no laughing matter, is just one of the many celebrities embracing the Darius Goes West project and hoping that some day their ship will come in and a cure for Duchene’s will be found.
The important thing to Logan is that the DVD will keep Darius’s smile, spirit, and enthusiasm alive as it is passed and played and funds work towards a cure for DMD. As Darius always says, “When I die they’re not going to say Darius is gone, the’ll say Darius has gone west. West as far as he could go….” -DUO