Bringing Star Power To AIDS Fight

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12.2.02 - Omaha World-Herald

By Corey Ross

LINCOLN - As the lead singer of the rock group U2, Bono has toured America several times, but never like this.

Instead of a tune, the singer and social activist came to Lincoln carrying a message. Sporting a military-style cap, he implored a sellout crowd of about 2,300 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Lied Center for Performing Arts on Sunday night to join him in the fight against the African AIDS epidemic.

In a 15-minute address, as part of a two-hour program, Bono was funny, emotional and logical in trying to rally support to combat AIDS, which is killing 6,500 Africans a day.

"We can't fix every problem," he said, "but we must fix the ones we can."

The Lincoln stop, which was part of Nebraska's E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues, was the first of an 11-city tour, which is scheduled to wrap up in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 9. The Heart of America tour rolls to Iowa City today.

Besides a message, Bono is bringing star power. Aside from scheduled speakers Bono and actress Ashley Judd, world cycling champion Lance Armstrong made a surprise appearance. Omaha investor Warren Buffett attended a press conference to lend his support.

Bono, whose real name is Paul Hewson, said he consulted Buffett when he was planning the tour and welcomed his advice. "He told me not to appeal to the conscience of America but to the greatness of America," Bono said. The messages from celebrities accompanied a heart-rending tale of Agnes Nyamayarwo, a Ugandan woman who is living with HIV. AIDS has claimed the lives of her husband and son.

JoAnna Pope, 30, of Wahoo, Neb., said the woman's testimonial most put the crisis in perspective.

"That really brought it home," Pope said. "That and the exuberance of the African youth (who performed). It was a very informative and very uplifting evening."

Bono said he chose the Midwest for his tour because he thinks that is where the country's "moral compass" resides. "There's a sense here of community and family. We came to the Heartland to get at the hearts and minds of America."

Some of those hearts and minds showed up very early to get in line to hear Bono speak. Lindsay O'Brien, a 20-year-old sophomore at Doane College in Crete, Neb., was one of four people who began standing in line at 7 p.m. Saturday.

O'Brien said she was looking forward to hearing the message as much as seeing the man.

"I learned about the cause through being a fan," O'Brien said. "It's nice to see him, but it's great that he's spreading the word about AIDS and debt trouble."

O'Brien said she hoped everyone else would be as interested in Bono's cause but thought that many people were attracted only to his celebrity. Still, that's better than no interest at all, she said.

"If it were a professor lecturing on African economics, it wouldn't get nearly this much attention."

Bono and Judd spent much time trying to tell Americans why they should care about Africa now when terrorism and a shaky economy are foremost in their minds.

"There are 10 potential Afghanistans on the subcontinent of Africa," Judd said. "Chaos breeds an atmosphere in which terrorists breed."

At the close of the program, Bono performed a new U2 song called "American Prayer."

Bono told the Nebraskans in attendance Sunday night that, instead of donating money, they should write their congressmen and President Bush, urging them to give U.S. financial aid to Africa.

"They will pay attention," he said. "I promise you."

World-Herald staff writer Rainbow Rowell contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2002 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on December 2, 2002 5:19 PM.

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