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PopMart live from Mexico is the best thing U2 ever did. -- Bono

Freedom Awards Heroes for Humanity

Rock the world, say role models
Memphis Commercial-Appeal
The politician and the rock star came together Monday in Memphis with a message:

Equality for all.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta and U2 frontman Bono were in town to receive this year's Freedom Awards from the National Civil Rights Museum.

They were honored at a banquet and ceremony Monday night, but before the formal events, they met with hundreds of students from across Shelby County in a public forum at Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ at 369 G. E. Patterson.

Bono, 44, dressed in a burgundy velvet blazer, jeans and his signature tinted glasses, sat in the front row next to a man he described as an inspiration.

"When your parents ask you what you did today, don't tell them about me," he said to the students. "Tell them you want to be like John Lewis, a man who is a true hero of mine."

Lewis, 64, D-Ga., is serving his ninth term in Congress. The son of sharecroppers, he was a key figure in the civil rights struggle, participating in the historic Freedom Rides, the Selma "Bloody Sunday" March and the March on Washington. He was beaten and attacked by dogs, but as chairman of the movement's Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) he kept fighting because he had to, he told the students.

"Troopers had nightsticks and bullwhips in their hands, and I thought I saw death on that bridge," Lewis said about the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., across the Pettus Bridge. "But we kept going to build a nation free of hate, free of violence. We still have to do work for equality for all, so don't you give up. Walk to win and let the spirit of freedom and courage be your guide."

Bono praised Memphis, where U2 recorded at Sun Studio for their album Rattle and Hum.

"Memphis to me is the cradle city of three kings: Elvis, B.B. King and Dr. Martin Luther King," Bono said. "It is like a living history book to grow up here and you can write the next chapter."

Bono, born in Dublin as Paul Hewson, has supported Third World debt relief efforts and lent his celebrity to the organization of DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), formed in 2002 to make people aware of the crises facing Africa.

"I wonder what Dr. King would think of us? We have the money and technology today, but the only thing lacking is the will," he told the students.

"We've got a whole lot of marching to do. This is the generation. This is the time. Memphis, I believe in you."

As the forum ended, the Freedom Award winners posed for pictures with students who were honored by the Civil Rights Museum for their artwork, activism and service.

Fans shouted "Bono" as he flashed the peace sign.

"He is just an amazing man who transcends the boundaries of being a rock star," said Nicole Ferguson, who traveled from Chicago for the event. "He is helping change the world."

Bono was selected to receive the $50,000 International Freedom Award sponsored by the Hyde Family Foundation, and Lewis was chosen for the $25,000 National Freedom Award sponsored by International Paper.

At the awards ceremony at the Cannon Center Monday night, Bono again spoke passionately about the plight of Africans.

"I know a rock star with a cause can be a scourge, but when there are 11 million African children who are orphans because of AIDS it is not a cause, it is an emergency," he said.

He quickly had the audience repeating this mantra -- "it is not a cause, it is an emergency" -- as he told them how 9,000 Africans would get AIDS this year.

"It is not a cause," he shouted.

"It is an emergency," the audience shouted back.

"Amen," Bono said before ending his speech and leaving the stage. "Amen."

© Commercial-Appeal, 2004.