Claudia Espinosa, one of our Zootopia mods, reports for U2.Com on last week's 2004 Freedom Award in Memphis, Tennessee.
"What are the blind spots of our age, of these times? What might you help the rest of us to see?" asked Bono, of 3,500 school pupils at the 2004 Freedom Award at The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last week. "It might be something as simple as the idea that every human life, no matter where they live, has equal worth."
The Watoto D'Afrika dancers, a festive young troupe of children singing and dancing to African rhythms, signalled the start of the program for the 2004 National Museum of Civil Rights Freedom Award Public Forum held at the Temple of Deliverance in Memphis, Tennessee.
The 2004 Freedom Award theme was "A Passion for Change", a spirit embodied by this year's honorees, U.S. Congressman John Lewis and Bono.
Representative Lewis was recipient of the National Award for his work in the advancement of equality, justice and civil rights in the United States - he took part in the desegregation of lunch counters in the South and the 1961 freedom rides that desegregated interstate bus travel. He was one of the key organizers in the 1963 March on Washington, earning him the position of Key Note Speaker at the age of 23. He was the Coordinator for the Nonviolent Student Coordinating Committee during the 1964 Freedom Summer and helped to lead the march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which turned into the civil rights movement's ³Bloody Sunday² when state troopers attacked and beat more than 600 peaceful marchers.
Bono received the International Award for promoting global awareness of the crises Africa faces as a result of the AIDS virus, and the need for debt cancellation and fair trade rules so that poor countries can take part is the global economy, and fund measures to alleviate their health crises.
Congressman Lewis stated that when he saw the situation that was the segregated South's way of life, "I got in the way, I got into trouble. But it was good trouble, it was necessary trouble." Speaking of the first of the more than 40 times he was arrested, while attempting to desegregate a Woolworth's lunch counter, he stated that "I felt free, I felt liberated."
After a musical tribute to the Congressman by the Stax Music Academy, a short video introduced Bono.
"I am Bono and I am a rock star and I owe my spoiled lifestyle to rock music, but I also owe my world view to rock music. Rock music is the music of rebellion, but rebelling against what?"
The video documented U2 and Bono's campaigning work for Africa from the Live Aid concert to the present, citing statistics that we are sadly too familiar with:
"17,000,000 African have AIDS;"
"30,000,000 African are HIV positive;"
"1.5 million of those are children;"
"More money is spent by some African countries a week in repaying the interest from Cold War era loans than their health and education budgets combined."
Bono's speech started with self-deprecating humour: "I am Bono, and I am one of John Lewis¹s chickens," he said, referring to a comment Rep. Lewis had made of how the chickens he practiced preaching to as a child, from a makeshift pulpit in a chicken coop, paid more attention than some of his colleagues in Congress, and were probably more productive, too.
"My definition of a rock star is someone that gets to be my age and hasn't grown up," continued Bono, urging the students to not tell their parents of his (supposed) delinquent nature, but to instead mention Lewis¹s comments when asked what they did in school that day.
"Memphis to me,' said Bono, "Is the city of three kings-- Elvis, B.B. King and Martin Luther King, Jr. Not because [King] died here, but because of his ideas and the civil rights movement."
Simultaneously funny, serious and inspiring, Bono¹s speech underlined the moral imperative that demands developed countries help our African brothers and sisters.
"Africa makes a fool of our idea of equality. There is no way we can look at Africa and conclude that we would allow this to happen anywhere else. Deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us, we would do more."
Bono urged the audience to "go on with this journey of equality. This is not about charity-- this is about justice² and he talked about the ONE campaign (theonecampaign.org) that DATA (www.data.org) is currently promoting in
order to publicize the fight against AIDS and poverty in Africa."
"Nothing makes a politician more nervous than the sound of marching feet" he concluded, noting that segregation was the blind spot of an age, but now we know that "segregation is ungodly and inhuman."
He questioned us about the blind spots of our age. Our generation's blind spot will cease to exist when "human life--no matter where they live--is of equal worth."
The Stax Musical Academy sang "Pride (in the Name of Love)" and the programme closed with a benediction by Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Chairman of the Board of the National Civil Rights Museum.
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(Special thanks to N. Ferguson)