Perhaps more than at any time in recent history, this year’s recognition and celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is paying homage to his legacy of social justice for all.

One element of this locally was the 20th anniversary celebration of the Empowerment Congress, marked on Saturday at USC. The event featured the Rev. Al Sharpton as the keynote speaker, and he challenged the audience of thousands to maintain and protect the hard-won civil rights that Dr. King and his generation fought to achieve.

The Empowerment Congress, spearheaded by Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, is an organization that was created in 1992 following the civil unrest sparked by the Rodney King verdict, and it gives people who live in the district an opportunity to voice their opinions about issues and come up with policy suggestions and solutions.

As part of this year’s annual conference, the Kellogg Foundation created the Community Engagement Leadership Institute, and brought in young people from cities and states around the country, including New York, Eau Claire (Wis.) and Hawaii. They had the opportunity to study the structure of the Empowerment Congress and will take that information back to their own communities to begin to implement it or augment the efforts already under way.

Additionally, the Empowerment Congress will conduct a yearlong series of activities to highlight their accomplishments and to look at the future.

” . . . there are too many officials who think they marched, went to jail and got bitten by dogs for their career rather than our empowerment. We’re in an era of celebrity officials rather than public servants. They act like people shed blood and suffered so they could get front-row seats at cocktail parties,” Sharpton told the audience.

Calling some in contemporary generations scared and ungrateful, Sharpton challenged them.

“You all must have a personal commitment to do what you’ve got to do to. What is your contribution? When you leave this conference, be determined to do your part to make a difference . . . be able to say ‘I was part of stopping them from turning back the clock on the gains and progress we have made.’”

At the annual Kingdom Day parade on Monday, a coalition of organizations, including labor, the Community Coalition and the Black Worker Center marched in solidarity with the 99-percenters of the Occupy Movement.

“Dr. King wasn’t just fighting against poverty, he was fighting against a system that created inequality. As he put it, ‘it is poverty amid plenty. Poverty in the midst of an affluent society …[that] makes for such great frustration,’” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition (CoCo), one of the organizers of “Occupy King’s Dream” float in the Martin Luther King Jr. Kingdom Day Parade. “That inequality still prevails today, and his dream is further from reality today more than ever.”

CoCo Executive Vice President Alberto Retana added, “We are marching for economic justice and the survival of our community. Then we will be taking our message and King’s legacy of activism and community empowerment from the streets to our classrooms and to the ballot boxes.

“Dr. King taught us not to be victims. We will not be victims to those whose greed has robbed us of our jobs, homes and livelihoods, and who have robbed our country of equality, decency and the American Dream. We will fight back and turn our communities and country around,” said Retana.