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Praise dancer Nashone Holmes, of New Birth Church, performs at Monday's Martin Luther King Day celebration at Deer Valley High School in Antioch. (Courtesy of Beverly Knight

Hundreds of East County residents paid tribute this week to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And whether it was walking through the streets of downtown Pittsburg, or taking in musical acts and skits in Antioch, there was a recognition of King's struggle for civil rights and the need to take his message into the future.

"A lot of times, people think of it as just being about a three-day weekend, but they're missing the point," said Greg Osorio, the main organizer of Pittsburg's 13th annual celebration.

At Monday's rally on the Pittsburg City Hall steps, Osorio and others hammered home that King's stand against what was morally wrong took powerful conviction.

"Justice isn't just given to people, you have to take it and be persistent," Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said. "Equality is really controversial."

"Never forget why they marched, and what they faced when they marched: bull whips, water hoses and dogs," added Willie Mims, a member of the local chapters of the Black Political Association and NAACP.

"We walk in peace, but they were faced with a terrorism we cannot understand."

About 350 people made the trek from the civic center to Pittsburg's Creative Arts Building for the "Tribute to Our Elders" celebration, which included Edwin Hawkins and the Love Center Choir performing "Oh Happy Day."

The civil rights icon's birthday was first celebrated as a national holiday 28 years ago.

In Antioch at the "Standing Together, Living the Dream" celebration at the Deer Valley High School Theater, more than 300 people heard city and school district leaders connect King's message of moving the community forward.

"The ultimate measure of our community is not measured where we stand in times of comfort, but in times of recession, challenges to education and the economy," Antioch school board President Joy Motts said. "I believe there is nothing we can't do if we stand together as one Antioch."

Mayor Wade Harper added that King's dream applies to Antioch when people work to stamp out injustice, eradicate hatred, and do not tolerate discrimination.

"This message is the living legacy of Dr. King and it is up to us to make the world a better place,"

Because Dr. King encouraged the youth to showcase their unique talents, the city's sixth annual celebration program was filled with Deer Valley student performances, including singing by the Divine Voices.

Keynote Speaker Maggie Anderson, author of the book "Our Black Year: One Family's Quest to Buy Black in America's Racially Divided Economy," and co-founder of the Empowerment Experiment, shared her family's work to buy only from black-owned businesses in 2009, in hopes of encouraging "economic empowerment."

Black-owned businesses are the greatest private employer of black people, yet only get two percent of the group's $1 trillion in buying power, Anderson said. So more support toward those business could help put a dent in high unemployment and spur more local investment, she said.

In addition to the keynote address and a variety of musical acts, a skit was performed by about 15 local high school-aged students offering facts about King's legacy.

"There is a lot of knowledge about King and the civil rights movement that has been lost, and future generations need to understand," organizer Wanda Ransom said.

Several local students received cash awards and scholarships for their reflections on King's message.

Abiola Onadele, an 11th-grader at Dozier Libbey Medical High School, won the first "Darnell Turner achievement scholarship" from the East County chapter of the NAACP.

In Pittsburg, Mary Alexander's third grade class at Marina Vista Elementary won $350 cash for first place for its spoken word submission. Emerald Phuangsri, a second-grader at Marina Vista, won second place and $150. Malik Robinson, a senior at Black Diamond High School, took third place and $75.

At the conclusion of the Antioch event scholarship winners were announced. The winners of the high school written awards were Onadele, Margarette Gil of Dozier Libbey and Adriana Flores of Deer Valley. The visual award winners at the high school level were Ashley Ruelas, Carrie Martin and Elizabeth Martin, all of Dozier Libbey.

The winners of the combined written and visual award for middle- schoolers were Veronica Pytlak of Black Diamond Middle School, Kyree Despanie of Black Diamond and Jesse A.L. Wilson of Orchard Park School.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

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