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You'll never see the band emerge from the dressing room until at least half an hour after each show, and it's not because they're taking showers. [E]very night the five of us sit down and deconstruct the show. -- Paul McGuinness

Rocker: Unite in War on AIDS

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Rock star Bono said leaders of the world's wealthiest nations can expect plenty of protesters this June when they gather on Sea Island.

"The G-8, the richest countries in the world, are coming to Georgia this summer for their big hoo-ha," said Bono, in Atlanta on Saturday to receive an award from the King Center and to meet with AIDS activists. "And you know I think they came to the right state, because I met some pretty energetic people and they've got something they want to say. And they are going. [The G-8] can be on an island if they want, but these people can swim."

The world leaders, including President Bush, are set to meet on the wealthy resort of Sea Island in part because of its secure and remote location. Previous meetings of the heads of United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia have been disrupted by protesters opposed to their policies toward poorer nations.

Bono, who in recent years has worked to help the poor and the HIV-infected in Africa, made his remarks just prior to receiving the King Center's "Salute to Greatness" award. The Target Corp. also was honored with the award for the money it donates to schools and charities nationwide.

Bono said the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr.'s concept of nonviolent activism needs to be applied to the issue of AIDS in Africa, to pressure governments and corporations in the developed world to help "the poorest of the poor." Bono has co-founded a nonprofit organization called DATA -- Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa -- with actor Chris Tucker and musician Bob Geldof. Bono said an estimated 7,000 Africans a day are dying of the disease.

"It's not a cause," he said as he sat next to Coretta Scott King. "It's an emergency."

Bono, 43, born Paul David Hewson in Dublin, Ireland, has led the rock band U2 for more than a quarter-century. The band's albums include The Unforgettable Fire, released in 1984, which included two songs, "Pride" and "MLK," dedicated to King. Bono said King's message of peace and justice influenced him greatly as a teenager, while Northern Ireland was engulfed in violence.

"He wasn't just talking about the American dream," Bono said. "It was a much bigger idea, actually, an idea that could fit an African dream, an Irish dream. And it certainly wasn't a daydream. It was a call to action."

At the dinner, which had a sellout crowd of 1,900 at the Hyatt downtown, Coretta King called Bono "another son for me now. We officialized that today."

Tributes at the dinner also were presented to the families of two Atlanta mayors, Ivan Allen Jr., who helped peacefully desegregate the city, and Maynard Jackson, who was the city's first black mayor. Both men died in 2003.

The dinner was one of the main events of a three-day celebration marking the 75th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth. Born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta to a family of pastors, King became the most famous leader of a movement to obtain equal rights for blacks in the South. He also campaigned to help the poor.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the same year the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.

King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. He is buried at the King Center near his church, Ebenezer Baptist, in the Sweet Auburn section of Atlanta. His birthday was made a national holiday in 1986.

Earlier Saturday, Bono gathered with AIDS activists at the King Center. The meeting lasted more than an hour-and-a-half and included Coretta King, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Tucker. Bono also surprised a packed audience at the 11th Annual Hands On Atlanta Martin Luther King Jr. Service Summit at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Sandra Thurman, president of the International AIDS Trust and AIDS czar under President Bill Clinton, said celebrities such as Bono must help keep the spotlight on the battle against HIV/AIDS.

"It's important that people get the opportunity to understand how the epidemic in Atlanta and the U.S. is part of the larger global pandemic," she said. "We need people like Bono to call attention to the fact that ordinary people can make a difference."

An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV, according to a report by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, and the World Health Organization. About 5 million people across the globe were infected in 2003; 3 million others died of AIDS.

© The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2004.