Cecilia Stone was 21 years old when Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos raised a gloved fist in a controversial human rights salute during the 200-meter medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

"It was very important, and probably at my age then I didn't understand it all," Stone said before Carlos spoke at a Pittsburg event on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, one of several activities that took place Monday in Contra Costa County.

She and her husband, Tim Stone, were among several hundred people who heard Carlos give the event's keynote speech at the Creative Arts Building at Pittsburg High School after an earlier rally and march to celebrate King's legacy. The event also featured Latino Unidos dancers, poetry by three high-school winners of a spoken-word contest and gospel singers.

Carlos recounted the fist raising, a salute that was echoed by gold medalist Tommie Smith, as an "enormously powerful" yet nonviolent gesture meant to draw from King's approach to improving civil rights without resorting to violence.

"That was why there was the glove (based) on the message that Dr. King gave me," Carlos said. "Dr. King is in each and every one of us if we take his values."

Carlos was introduced by Eddie Hart, a Pittsburg resident who was on the track team that won the 4x100 relay race at the 1972 Summer Olympics. "He did it as a way of speaking out against injustice," Hart said of the raised-glove salute.

The MLK event in Pittsburg is now in its 10th year.


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"It's close to our hearts. It really brings the community together," said Stone, a longtime Pittsburg resident.

In El Cerrito, hundreds turned out for the 24th annual parade and celebration, the longest running MLK Day event in West Contra Costa County.

Capt. Leslie "Les" Williams, 94, watched the ceremony and chatted with parents and kids at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Center. Williams was the first graduate of the bomber program at Tuskegee, which trained African-American pilots during World War II.

"Les was one of the pioneers toward breaking the segregation of our armed forces," said Jay Richardson, vice president of the Bill Campbell Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In Richmond, city officials estimated that more than 1,000 people turned out for the sixth Annual MLK Service Day event on the Richmond Greenway. Two stages rocked with live performances, including music, spoken word poetry and speeches, while hundreds of volunteers planted seeds and pruned the greenway, which runs through the city's Iron Triangle neighborhood.

"This is a sight that would bring tears to Dr. King's eyes," said Otheree Christian, president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council. "People of all colors and backgrounds are planting seeds in the ground and seeds of love in the community."

Residents strolled through greenway gardens lined with placards featuring the late civil rights leader's most famous quotes. Sounds ranged from classic Chuck Berry riffs to a solemn sermon by local activist the Rev. Phil Lawson.

In Hercules, hundreds gathered in the Hercules Middle School Auditorium for a program celebrating King's legacy. The keynote speech by Contra Costa College President Denise Noldon focused on love, education and empathy as gateways toward a more just and harmonious society, which she called an "ongoing democratic project."

Antioch's fifth annual tribute to King took place at Deer Valley High School. Musical and comedic acts from Deer Valley students were woven together with inspirational speakers and quotes from the civil rights leader.

Keynote speaker and Los Medanos College professor Silvester Henderson stressed the need for an alternative model of education to inspire young people to fulfill King's dream of building safe, healthy and thriving communities. He urged educators and parents to encourage local youth to pursue career paths that are based on service, communication and entertainment.

Antioch Mayor Wade Harper said that remembering King's legacy is about encouraging everyone to stand against injustice and evil, even if it is not directed at them personally.

"This is a national holiday that should actually mean something to us," he said.

Staff writers Robert Rogers and Paula King contributed to this report. Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her at Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.