It was a mutual admiration society as Nile Rodgers honored Bono, and President Jimmy Carter, at the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) Gala on April 29, 2016 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Bono received the Humanitarian Award for his fight against AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa, and he was full of praise for Carter, who was recognized with the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award.
The U2 lead singer said, “As a teenager, I began to hear about this poetic figure who was running for President of the United States.” He was fascinated because Carter “quoted Bob Dylan, who was at that time the actual president of the United States, my United States.” Bono was also impressed by Carter’s strong religious beliefs when asked the basis for his moral beliefs. “He didn’t quote an economist or philosopher or a pollster or pundit. He cited the Holy Scriptures,” stated Bono. “The most powerful man in the world humbled himself to submit to a higher power. He presented a whole different way of thinking about American power. He made human rights a national mandate,” Bono said. “He counted his success not by the wars that he waged, but by the peace he made possible.” Bono compared the former President to “great heroes of peace: Robert Kennedy, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Following his speech, Bono appropriately kicked off his four-song set (with Rodgers and his band Chic) with the U2 King tribute song, “Pride (In The Name of Love).”
Bono recalled that he met Rodgers at the Paradise Garage in the 1980s, and listened to Rodgers’ Sister Sledge composition, “We Are Family,” playing in the dance club. Regarding the foundation’s work nurturing teen leaders from around the world, Bono commented “I thank Nile for having the vision. [With] the We Are Family Foundation, the gift is not just to see the future, but to find those who can build the future.” The Irish singer/activist explained that his U2 bandmate The Edge was also a fan of Rodgers and would have loved to perform at the gala, however he had a commitment he could not cancel, performing for the Pope at the Sistine Chapel. Bono told The Edge, “I’m doing a gig at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and we’re going to turn it into the Cathedral that it has been over the years for rock and roll music, and hip-hop, and dance music. I am with the ‘groove pope’ (Rodgers).” Bono sang the U2 classics, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Beautiful Day.” On his final song, “Mysterious Ways,” he jumped into the audience and finished his set standing on a chair in the middle of the adoring crowd.
President Carter’s award is named after the first We Are Family Foundation Peacemaker honoree, child poet and author Mattie Stepanek, who passed away at age 13 in 2004 from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Stepanek admired Carter, and they shared a friendship. In the most poignant moment of the event, a video was played of the young boy introducing his idol. The former President received his award from Stepanek’s mother, Dr. Jeni Stepanek. In remembering her son, Carter said, “It was a valuable friendship, an enjoyable friendship, and it grew day by day.” The 39th President recalled that when he was honored with the Nobel Peace in 2002, “I felt like I shared it with him.”
The We Are Family Foundation identifies and unifies the world’s most brilliant teens, young people who are carrying on the legacy of the late Mattie Stepanek. His words are the core of the We Are Family Foundation mission statement. He wrote, “Peace is possible…Peace begins within each person when we have our basic needs met.” Those basic needs–food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education, and the environment, are the focus of the foundation. WAFF’s key programs, Three Dot Dash and TedXTeen, bring Global Teen Leaders (GTLs) together with adult mentors to help them advance their individual platforms. The We Are Family Foundation has developed over 200 Global Teen Leaders from 40 countries and six continents. 45 GTLs were present at the gala. Foundation President Nancy Hunt commented, “They don’t know the word no. They only know ‘what if.’ Their role is to affect millions, to achieve the answer to ‘what if.’” Two of the Global Teen Leaders spoke at the gala. 18 year old Ciara Judge is Chairperson of the Irish Digital Youth Council, and a scientist dedicated to finding creative solutions to end the global food crisis. 16 year old Mihir Garimella is an award winning high school student who creates drones for search, rescue and emergency response.
The gala raised money to support these brilliant youth leaders. An auction was highlighted by a $100,000 bid for the guitar Rodgers played during the David Bowie tribute at the 2016 Grammy Awards. It had been signed by several stars including Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Dave Grohl, Beck, Skrillex, and Rodgers, and just as it was announced, Bono added his signature. Following his performance, Rodgers ignited a dance party with his Hall of Fame repertoire, including Chic’s “Le Freak” and “Good Times.” He paid tribute to Bowie with the English singer’s best-selling single, a classic Rodgers produced in 1983, “Let’s Dance.” Fast forward three decades, Rodgers also displayed his contemporary appeal, creating a frenzy for revelers in front of the stage with the 2014 Record of the Year featuring his distinctive guitar licks, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Rodgers and Chic maintained the gala tradition of inviting the black tie audience on stage for the grand finale, the foundation theme and title song, “We Are Family.” As original singer Kathy Sledge delighted the crowd with her passionate vocals, the party of the year culminated with the audience in ecstasy, and the foundation achieving its goal of raising over one million dollars. The nest egg will enable WAFF to continue following the peace plan established by the young visionary who received the highest praise from a former President.
“I’ve known many famous people: kings and queens, great scientists, presidents, prime ministers,” Carter told the audience in his acceptance speech. “I’ve known Mother Teresa. Nelson Mandela was a great friend of mine. We spent many times together. But I can tell you without equivocation that the most remarkable human being I’ve ever known, was Mattie Stepanek.”