Taylor Monserrate, 6, of Brooklyn, left, and Leilani Monserrate, 7,...

Taylor Monserrate, 6, of Brooklyn, left, and Leilani Monserrate, 7, of Roosevelt, march in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in Hempstead, NY. (Jan. 17, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

The 200-plus people who marched through Long Beach's streets Monday held signs that spoke of peace, love and unity as they followed a path that organizers said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. himself trod during a visit to the city in 1968.

Some walked silently, holding placards with messages such as "Free at Last" and "His life remains an eternal inspiration," while others sang and hummed the hymns "Walk in the Light" and "Victory is Mine."

They were there to celebrate King's life and to honor his legacy as part of commemorations that spread across Long Island and beyond in the streets, halls and churches of the metropolitan region and the nation.

"We're here to remember and reinforce his legacy, which was love, caring and -- let's not forget -- justice," said Jean Zeigler, a Long Beach march committee chairwoman.

Nationally, the observance -- a federal holiday to mark King's birthday that was established in 1983 and was designated as a day of service in 1994 -- was a call to action around a question that King posed when he said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?' "

Long Islanders reflected on King's message at a yearly breakfast in Hauppauge, attended parades in Hempstead and Glen Cove, flocked to church in Huntington, and went to art showings and discussions elsewhere.

At a luncheon in Long Beach, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee federal criminal and civil cases in the district that includes Long Island and portions of New York City, drew parallels between King's fight against segregation in the United States and Nelson Mandela's struggles against apartheid in South Africa.

She told the crowd at the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center about how both icons were thrown into prison for fighting oppression.

"And this raises, my friends, the question and the lesson for us today: 'What is your prison?' . . . Is it the prison of racism? Is it the prison of unemployment? Is it the prison of economic loss or disappointment in your life?" asked Lynch, exhorting listeners to fight "disappointment or low expectations."

She added: " . . . What we can learn from Mandela and King is that any prison is what we make of it."

Not far away, the Hempstead parade included the Air Force Junior ROTC from Aviation High School in Long Island City marching in uniform, plus a soundtrack of drum beats from the Hempstead High School marching band.

Cherise Parson, of Queens, recorded the march, which included her son, Brett Parson Jr., a member of the ROTC at Aviation. "It's a good experience to pay homage," she said.

Master Sgt. Willie Williams, a junior ROTC instructor at the school, said his student body is made up of people from various countries, including Myanmar, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. He said the mix of races and cultures embodies King's dream.

Last night in Huntington, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) came to Bethel A.M.E. Church for the NAACP's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well as the 151st anniversary of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Israel invoked the biblical story of the good Samaritan, noting that King showed how to live by the parable.

"We are reminded by Dr. Martin Luther King of our fundamental obligation when we see someone who needs help, to help," Israel said. "Our fundamental obligation is to climb that mountain until you get to the top, to think about prosperity and safety for a better life for our children.

"That's what Martin King fought for," he said. "We must make his dream a reality for all Americans."

With Deborah S. Morris

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