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Long Islanders pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

Members of the audience react as the Reverend

Members of the audience react as the Reverend James Forbes speaks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast on Monday, January 18, 2009 in Hauppauge, New York. Credit: /Howard Schnapp

Even though Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an annual holiday, Hempstead resident Jacquie Brown said she always finds the day refreshing.

"Martin Luther King is a great man. First comes God, then Martin Luther King," she said. "I find out more and more about him every year."

Monday was a day for reflection and remembrance for Long Islanders who gathered at churches and banquet halls to mark the federal holiday that celebrates the slain civil rights leader, who would have turned 81 this month.

In Uniondale, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Monday led a bevy of political and community leaders celebrating King's legacy.

"[His] revolutionary spirit stood as a testament to the ideals that our country has struggled to realize since its inception," Mangano said at the county's 25th annual luncheon birthday celebration of King, who was assassinated in April 1968. It was Mangano's first major nonpolitical event in the post.

"Dr. King helped us realize and begin to resolve flaws that tarnished the American dream," Mangano said. "He dared us to dream of a world free of hatred and fear, holding our country to its promise that 'all men are created equal' . . . [and] we [in Nassau County] remain committed to battling bigotry, racism, intolerance and inequality."

The luncheon ceremony at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale also honored some Long Islanders who through their actions epitomize the credo of King.

Among the honorees were Hempstead town clerk Mark Bonilla of Bellmore, the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to hold a townwide office; Frank M. Corso Jr. of Hauppauge, a business development adviser; Henry Holley of Hempstead, a community activist and local businessman; Douglas Mayers of Freeport, the former head of the Freeport-Roosevelt NAACP, and the late Insp. Matthew Simeone Jr. of Wading River, who was Nassau Police Community Affairs Commander.

In Hempstead, local elected officials and religious leaders gathered at Faith Baptist Church for a service that coupled words of the Gospel with the legacy of King.

"We sit here celebrating a life you gave to us as a prophet," said the Rev. Odell Odom, delivering the invocation at a service that followed a parade through Hempstead sponsored by United People Organization.

Village of Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall called on the community to do more to combat youth violence, touching on the death of his 18-year-old grandnephew in Brooklyn last month.

"We have to stop the violence," Hall said. "If Martin Luther King was alive today, that's what he'd be fighting for."

Meanwhile, Ronald Taylor, 16, a member of Faith Baptist, said King's influence is a strong one on his young life.

"I simply try to live my life as Dr. King lived his," Taylor told the audience.

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