ANTIOCH -- While the nation was watching the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on Monday, U.S. cities like Antioch were celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and reflecting on how to achieve his visionary dream in their own communities.

After spending some time in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Antioch Mayor Wade Harper gave up tickets to the inauguration to lead Antioch's fifth annual tribute to King Monday afternoon in the Deer Valley High School Theater. The event was sponsored by the city, Antioch Unified School District and the Arts & Cultural Foundation of Antioch.

"I wanted to be here because I thought this was very, very important," Harper said.

The event's theme was "Making a Difference in Our Community," which Harper said could be achieved through trust, common goals and clarity of purpose. Monday's festivities should encourage everyone to stand against injustice and evil, even if it is not directed at them, he said.

"This is a national holiday that should actually mean something to us," Harper noted to the audience of more than 100.

Because Dr. King encouraged the youth to showcase their unique talents, the program was filled with Deer Valley student performances, including singing from Divine Voices, trios and duos and an act from 17-year-old comedian Lenard Jackson.

Keynote speaker and Los Medanos College professor Silvester Henderson said that King's dream was about uplifting all people. In his speech, the musical educator stressed an alternative model of education for today's youth, which would help them pursue career paths that are service-oriented or related to communication and entertainment. He mentioned some Bay Area African-American male role models because he said it is important to acknowledge local heroes along with major icons like King and Obama.

"We forget that there are people who make real change in our lives locally," Henderson said.

Henderson said that the best way to support traditional education is to use the student's hobbies and talents as a tool for learning, as he has done through music for more than 30 years.

"East County is full of a lot of children who are not successful. That is because people are not validating their personal passions," he said.

At the program's conclusion, students were recognized with awards for essay and visual submissions as part of a scholarship program. The Deer Valley essay winners were juniors Alex Barcenas in first place, George Moore in second, and Kody Johnson in third.

The essay winners from Black Diamond Middle School were sixth-graders Alexia Harrison in first place, Kwesi Ajani Guss in second and Brianna Keleti in third. In the visual category, the Black Diamond sixth-grade winners were Joel Martinez in first, Yoshi Rhodes in second and Sianna Bernal in third.

Reach Paula King at 925-779-7174 or pking@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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