Live like Darian: What if teen’s simple acts of kindness could change the world?

Could ‘kindness’ go viral? Beyond a deadly crash, Darian Locklear’s message lives on

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

Darian Locklear will be remembered as many things: bright, warm, kind, athletic and beautiful. But she was shy, too. Or as her mother phrased it with a laugh, “just a little socially awkward.” Even as a teenager, Darian was uncomfortable doing things like ordering at a restaurant.

And that’s why, following Darian’s death -- the 16-year-old from Brighton, Michigan was killed in a car crash on Feb. 6, 2018, en route to hockey practice with a friend -- Darian’s mom, Regina Locklear, was more than a little surprised when other teenagers started coming forward, contacting her with stories and fond memories to share about their beloved confidant and classmate.

The stories

The first girl who got in touch with Regina wanted to share an emotional experience about a particularly vulnerable time in her life: Years earlier, while in middle school, the girl said, she had been ousted by her inner circle. She went from a large group of friends to no friends, and the only person who would talk to her, was Darian.

Regina was incredibly touched. She had no idea.

When Regina posted some of these details on her own Facebook page -- with the girl’s blessing, of course -- a similar story surfaced, this time, via text message.

Regina received a message from a man she used to work with about 25 years ago, saying his daughter goes to the same high school that Darian attended, and apparently, the two girls knew one another.

About two weeks before Darian died, as the story goes, the man found a suicide note in his daughter’s bedroom. The family knew the teen was being bullied, but they didn’t know it was happening to such a serious extent. When they called a family meeting to talk about it, the girl confirmed that yes: “Things had gotten bad enough to where she didn’t want to be here anymore,” as Regina recalled.

But one of the reasons why the teen survived this tumultuous period, was thanks to Darian, the girl’s dad said to Regina.

“The girls didn’t even hang out outside of (school),” Regina said. “(But Darian) took her in and helped her. She coached and kind of mentored her through it. Darian never mentioned any of this.”

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

And then in another chance encounter, another former co-worker of Regina’s started chatting with the boy behind the counter at a local pizza restaurant, when it came up -- in a rather roundabout way -- that they were both familiar with the Locklear family.

When Darian’s name was mentioned, the boy lit up, recalling how when he was in the fourth or fifth grade, he’d sometimes sit at a lunch table by himself. But whenever that would happen, he said, Darian would get all her friends to come over, and they’d join him.

Fast-forward to today, the same young man now attends church regularly with the Locklears, after Regina came up to the pizza shop to meet him. He was even baptized, and he’d never been a regular churchgoer before.

There was another teen who told Regina she had been sexually assaulted by a boy from school, and when she came forward, no one believed her, not even her friends. Darian was the only person at school who would talk to her, and she was forever grateful for that compassion. Darian’s kindness had gotten her through a very dark time.

The stories like these are plentiful.

Darian didn’t become best friends with everyone she encountered, but she was kind -- every day. She listened to people. And she touched people, in ways that her family might have never known about otherwise.

A mother’s love, a mother’s faith

To talk to Regina is to talk to a survivor. Although she says the family is doing OK these days, you can sometimes hear the grief in her voice, like a bumpy road she’s still trying to figure out how to navigate.

It’s more than understandable.

After all, she’s still figuring out how to live without her only daughter.

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

“I mean, we’re able get out of bed every day,” Regina said. “We’re at peace. Peace is an OK word to use. We have our moments and our days when it’s difficult. But we have that outlook where you have to pick yourself up and keep going.”

Regina wrote about her experience, of opening her door and standing face to face with two state troopers, as they delivered the news that Darian had passed.

“It was 10 o’clock at night, and they asked if they could come in,” Regina wrote. “They then asked if Darian Locklear was our daughter. The last thing I recall them saying was, ‘She was in an accident, and I’m sorry, but she didn’t make it.’ I literally crumbled to the floor screaming, ‘NO!’ And then I just remember screaming, ‘Oh my God, what do I do? I don’t know what to do.’ Over and over and over again. My head was spinning. This could not be happening. To us. To HER … But it was. In the days to come, we would plan the funeral and bury our youngest child, our precious daughter, Darian. … We stumbled around like zombies for months. I don’t know how I got out of bed in the days following the accident. I wasn’t sure how I would go on without her. It was my worst nightmare -- the thing I prayed about every night. ‘God, please keep my kids safe and healthy.’”

In the wake of the accident, in trying to make sense of everything -- how this could have happened, the grief, how the family would move on -- the Locklears leaned on their faith. As Regina put it, she and her husband had always been believers, but life kind of got in the way, as it does sometimes.

“Darian played hockey, my son played hockey, we both worked and we were unbelievably busy,” Regina said. “We barely had time for dinner together.”

But in their time of need, the day after the accident, Regina’s sister-in-law, who’s very strong in her faith, came over to the Locklear home, accompanied by the pastors from her church.

Regina recalls sitting with everyone on the family’s living room floor when she became fixated on one thing in particular.

“My biggest concern, or worry, other than, ‘How am I going to survive this?’ is, I wanted to know (Darian’s) soul was in heaven,” Regina said.

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

The group talked it over, about how Darian had attended Spring Hill, a Christian camp in Northern Michigan, when she was 11 or 12, and how she’d been exposed to a Christian upbringing, even if the family didn't attend church regularly.

“It was easy to convince me, or all of us, that she was in a good place, and that she was with Jesus,” Regina said. “That perspective really made me want to be closer to God and Jesus, because then I’d be closer to her.”

People had been sending books to the family about losing a child, or how to cope with unimaginable grief. Regina said she probably read 15 of them in about two months. She was desperate for answers, and she needed to know why. Why did this happen?

So the family started attending church every week. At one point, their group swelled to about 20 to 25 people, and it felt good, she said.

“Every weekend, there’d be a connection and something we could relate to,” Regina said. “We left feeling uplifted. I don’t know how we survived those first few months. It’s a big blur.”

Regina returned to her job after only two weeks, and said she walked around like a zombie for probably four to six months. She had to give a big presentation about a month after Darian’s death, and apparently, it went really well, according to her former co-workers.

“I don’t even remember it,” Regina said. “I’m not superhuman or an ice princess. I just have to believe that it’s God giving me, and us, the strength.”

The bracelets

As time went on, Regina and other loved ones decided to do “a modest little thing” to honor Darian and keep her memory alive, as Regina put it -- because those quiet acts of kindness from Darian really seemed to resonate with people.

So the group had rubber bracelets made, with one side reading, “Kindness is beautiful” and the other side displaying the words “Fly high, Darian.”

Regina said she, along with others, handed the bracelets out to Darian’s friends at first, and they were tasked with giving a bracelet to anyone caught performing a kind act, along with an extra one, to help spread the positive message.

Within hours, the teens had distributed all the bracelets, and they started posting photos to social media. From there, the concept took off. Regina’s first order of 300 bracelets was gone in a matter of days.

They’ve since been mailed across the country, to states including Colorado, Oregon, New York, South Carolina, Texas and Arizona. It seems people really do want to live like Darian.

It’s often teachers and principals who’ve read Darian's story online or who have seen the social media posts, who want the bracelets for their own communities.

Maybe the group was on to something.

A community to lean on

Regina’s former company, Cooper Standard Automotive, wanted to do something special following Darian’s death, so it organized the construction of a playground in her honor, which was built at a Pontiac, Michigan shelter for women and children who have survived domestic violence.

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

A fundraising account attached to the funeral website raised about $40,000, and the company matched that number. About 35 people -- some family and friends, and some employees -- built the playground in a single day, braving “every kind of weather you could imagine.” It was therapeutic, in a way.

From there, Darian’s loved ones continued full speed ahead, keeping busy with various fundraisers to promote her message of kindness. At one 5K event, “Darian’s Kindness Warriors” gathered more than 100 participants and raised more than $14,000 in a matter of weeks.

The Dash for Darian -- a 5K for Kindness, raises money for the Darian Locklear Kindness Scholarship.

And that’s not to mention a three-on-three hockey tournament, a Skate for Darian event and several other good causes. The funds raised go toward the aforementioned kindness scholarship, which goes to one or two students who’ve proven that they “live kindness” every day.

There’s another scholarship as well, intended for girls in Michigan who want to play hockey but struggle to afford the expensive sport. In 2019, five girls received about $13,000 to put toward expenses.

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

Darian played hockey starting at the age of 7, first with the boys, then with the girls in a AAA league. She went on to win three state championships and even a national championship.

The kindness talks

As for Regina, she’s still adjusting to her “new normal.” It helps to stay busy with “kindness talks,” as they’re called. They started last spring because of a fourth-grade teacher who told her students all about Darian, and the children were enthralled by her, as Regina said. They all wrote essays about what it means to be kind, the teacher recorded them, and then at the end, they all yelled, “Fly high, Darian!”

The teacher reached out to Regina and explained how much it would mean to the kids if she paid the classroom a visit.

So she went. The students wanted to know all about her daughter -- all her favorites, and they asked to hear exactly what she was like.

At last check, Regina was back at it, spreading Darian’s kindness, and explaining to the children how little daily acts can add up to make a big difference.

Online: The Darian Locklear Project

“I try to be interactive with the kids, and get them to talk about times when they’ve been kind,” Regina said. “It’s evolved now. I have a kindness quiz. It gets them to talk. We say like, ‘Have any of you ever been bullied? Have you witnessed it? Have you stepped in?’ They’re so into it. A handful of kids already had their Darian bracelets. They were bragging about how they got them.”

Darian’s memory

Like most parents, Regina loves to talk about her kids. You can tell they’re the light of her life. She has a son, too, in his 20s, who, at last check was studying at the University of Michigan. You can tell how proud Regina is, of both of her kids.

Some people don’t know how to broach the subject of Darian’s passing, Regina said, adding that sometimes, it can be awkward or “weird” when it’s clearly the elephant in the room, but no one should be scared to bring her up. It’s not as if Regina will somehow forget, and you’ll be the one to remind her.

She loves sharing stories about her sweet girl.

And speaking of stories, Regina has one more, or at least, that’s what she promised during this interview, with a laugh. It's a good one.

“When my son was a senior in high school, we still weren’t (attending church regularly),” Regina said, diving in. “But I wanted my kids to get baptized, and my son said, ‘Why would I get baptized? I don’t even know if I believe in God.’”

Regina and her husband were dumbfounded. They didn't know he felt that way.

“He came to church willingly,” Regina said. “He didn’t say much, but apparently, he wasn’t buying into it. We were devastated, like, ‘What do you mean, you don’t believe?’”

Trever was 17 years old at the time.

As Regina tells it, they eventually moved on. Life went on.

But then came the week of Darian’s funeral, and leading up to the service, the Locklears were trying to pick a song to play. They were struggling to come up with something that felt just right.

Eventually, Trever found something online: “Believe,” by Brooks & Dunn. He showed it to his mom, who hadn’t forgotten their previous serious conversation about faith.

Regina listened to the lyrics carefully, and finally asked, “Does this mean you believe?” It seemed that that's perhaps what Trever was implying, but she didn't want to assume.

But the song clearly had an impact on him, and Regina could see that.

“He turned up and his eyes were full of tears,” she said. “And he said, ‘Mom, I just have to believe I’m going to see her again.’”

Photo used with permission from Regina Locklear

A wave of relief washed over Regina’s body.

“(Now) he’s a super strong believer. It was a 100% turnaround, all because he wants to see his sister again. Whatever the motivation is, that’s OK. He does believe that his sister died to save his soul, and a lot of other souls. A lot of people have come to (their faith) that never would have, ever, if this hadn’t have happened. She is an angel for so many people.”

The story of a girl

Everyone should have five minutes to chat with Regina. In her, you might hear your own mom, a friend or an aunt. You might hear yourself. It doesn’t take long to figure out where Darian must have learned how to be so kind and warm.

Regina spoke about how others have had to deal with unimaginable losses too, and she knows her family isn’t alone. They're not the only ones who've had to navigate unbelievable grief. Even in the accident, Darian wasn’t the only one in the car that day. Julianna Ward-Brown, a fellow high school junior, was also killed. She’s survived by just as many loved ones.

But for today, this is Darian’s story: about how the kindness of one girl has the potential to spread worldwide. About one family, saved by their faith.

The kindness message is simple, but it resonates with people.

“This was not something I would have ever expected from her,” Regina said. “We never knew she was that person who’d be there for all those girls.

“Yes, our lives are 100% different from what they were before. We are not the same people. (Darian’s passing) was life-changing. Of course, I’d choose to have my daughter back 100,000%, but at least there’s some good that’s come out of it.”

This story was first published in 2019.