Irish rock star and humanitarian Bono received the Liberty Medal, Philadelphia’s most prestigious award, at a ceremony at the National Constitution Center on Thursday, Sept. 27. He was honored for his efforts to reduce extreme poverty and beat back AIDS in Africa. The organization he founded in 2002, DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), shared the award.
“He has shown that it is impossible for decent men and women to be subjected to such inequity and injustice only to stand idly by,” President George H.W. Bush said before presenting Bono with the award.
The Liberty Medal annually honors individuals or organizations worldwide who have demonstrated leadership and vision in the pursuit of liberty of conscience or freedom from oppression, ignorance or deprivation. This award is accompanied by a $100,000 prize, which Bono said will be donated to the organization.
In a press conference before the ceremony, executive director of DATA Jamie Drummond spoke about the organization and the honor that both he and Bono would be receiving.
“As you can tell from my accent, I’m not American, nor is Bono, but we get what an honor this is,” Drummond said.
As the ceremony began, a range of performers took the stage in an effort to honor the cause and urge Americans to use their voices for liberty.
” In the words of our honoree, find the melody line in your head and sing it for liberty,” President and CEO of the National Constitution Center Joseph M. Torsella said in his introduction.
Governor Edward G. Rendell and Mayor John F. Street followed Torsella’s introduction and gave words of recognition in honor of the recipients. Former President Bush presented Bono with the medal as Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a member of the DATA Policy Advisory Board, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
“Today as you pin this great honor on me, I ask you, I implore you as an Irishman who has seen some of these things close up, I ask you to remember, you do not have to become a monster to defeat a monster. Your America is better than that,” Bono said in his acceptance speech.
A consistent question throughout the speech became what America is willing to pledge in this fight to reduce poverty and take control. He urged those in attendance to listen to the voice of young Africa and to take a stand.
For the evening, Bono said he was taking on the identity of an American.
“Let me set my foot here and say to you tonight, this is my country. With humility and pride in my own country let me say, America is my country in the sense that anyone who has a stake in liberty, has a stake in the United States of America for all you’ve been through, good and bad, this is my country too,” Bono said.
“America is not just a country. It’s an idea, isn’t it?”