PITTSBURG -- Alex and Cheryl White, of Oakley, along with their 16-year-old son Austin, were among the first to arrive at Monday's late-morning rally and march celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. outside Pittsburg City Hall.

"If there's no continued movement, then his message will fall by the wayside," Alex White said. "Without Dr. King, the world wouldn't be in such a better position."

Pittsburg was one of several East Bay cities to host activities Monday in honor of the slain civil rights icon. Residents marched, volunteered and attended celebrations of skit, song and speeches reflecting on his message.

Members of the Chiyakare Ensemble perform during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute to our Elders celebration Jan. 20, 2014, in Pittsburg.
Members of the Chiyakare Ensemble perform during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute to our Elders celebration Jan. 20, 2014, in Pittsburg. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

"Martin Luther King holiday is not just another day of shopping. It's about really rethinking your citizenship and recognizing that all the good things that happen in this country are because people were willing to struggle," Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said at the 13th annual Pittsburg event.

Economic justice and peace aren't given to people, but "you have to go take it," he said.

The group of about 350 people that made the trek to Pittsburg High School for the "Tribute to Our Elders" celebration saw Edwin Hawkins and the Love Center Choir perform "Oh Happy Day." The White family said seeing the live performance after hearing the song in the past was an additional incentive for attending.

The longest ongoing MLK celebration event in the East Bay drew more than 500 people to El Cerrito for the 25th annual street parade and gathering at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater.

On both Pittsburg's Railroad Avenue and El Cerrito's San Pablo Avenue, revelers sang the Civil Rights hymn "We Shall Overcome," and played percussive instruments to a chorus of car honks and bystander cheers.

"The positive energy is really special," said Christopher Johnson, a 43-year-old Richmond resident who marched with his wife and three small children on San Pablo Avenue. "A diverse people coming together in a peaceful demonstration is the model that Dr. King would be proud of."

In Richmond, hundreds turned out for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service along the Richmond Greenway between Sixth and 16th streets at Chanslor and Ohio avenues -- working the soil, planting trees and spreading mulch to the sounds of live music.

Cheyanna Washburn, a 19-year-old volunteer from Martinez, called the day of service in King's honor an "inspiration."

"Seeing the Richmond community come together is something I want to bring back home to Martinez," Washburn said. "So many people producing so much positive progress together, it's amazing. Martin Luther King's day is everyone's day."

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

Antioch's sixth annual MLK celebration "Standing Together, Living the Dream" at the Deer Valley High School Theater included a keynote address from 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.

Anderson's family, which lives in the suburbs of Chicago, bought from only black-owned businesses in 2009, in hopes of encouraging "economic empowerment."

There were about 6,400 black-owned grocery stores in the United States in the 1930s, but today only three full-service groceries have black owners, she said.

In addition to the keynote address and a variety of musical acts, a skit was performed by about 15 Deer Valley High students offering facts about King's legacy.

Wanda Ransom suggested in November having a skit at the event, saying she was so proud of the work the kids put in after school to make it happen.

"There is a lot of knowledge about King and the civil rights movement that has been lost, and future generations need to understand," she said. "It was very much a labor of love."

Contact Paul Burgarino at pburgarino@bayareanewsgroup.com or 925-779-7164 and Robert Rogers at rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com or 510-262-2726. Follow them at Twitter.com/paulburgarino and Twittercom/SFBayNewsRogers.