"We learned he tried to make peace for everybody," he said.
The two youngsters were among nearly 200 people who gathered for the celebration, organized by the Memorial Recreation Center on North Avenue and held next door in the gymnasium of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center.
The Rev. Andre Blythe, associate pastor of Zion Baptist Church, served as master of ceremonies, with the Rev. Anthony Carr, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, giving the invocation and benediction.
Among the evening's highlights were a recitation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech by minister Darin Mency, gospel music performed by the Community Mass Choir and short speeches by local community leaders and students.
Memorial Recreation Center has been organizing community programs to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the past 10 years, said Director Ruth Monroe. She said the program is intended both to celebrate King's life and keep his dream alive by showing children what he stood for.
It was appropriate that the music and several of the speeches centered on the need for God's help in overcoming the obstacles black people still face in America, Monroe said.
"That's what Dr. King represented. He was a minister. He was a leader. He always put God first," she said.
During the program, Monroe was one of three people awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Brothers United Who Dare To Care, a nonprofit community organization that focuses on issues involving children.
Retired Washington County educator and coach Robert W. Johnson accepted an award from the group's vice president, Stan Brown Jr., who said the awards recognized local people who'd made tremendous contributions to the community's youth.
Honoree Henry Williams, who served as director of the old Boys' Club on Church Street during the 1940s and 50s, was unable to attend the program, Brown said.
It was encouraging to see so many young people at the celebration, said Johnetta W. Neal, principal of Cascade Elementary School, who attended with her 16-year-old daughter, Amanda.
It's up to adults to pass on the values King promoted to future generations, she said.
"It's also important that we celebrate today because it keeps us focused, it gives us a sense of direction and it renews the spirit," she said.
With so much press attention on President Bill Clinton's inauguration, Amanda Neal said she thought it was especially important that King's birthday be remembered with a local celebration.