MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
After the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others, Etienne Maurice was so frustrated he didn’t know where to put his anger or his pain.
All the actor, filmmaker and director knew was that he had to do something. He needed an outlet that would help him and others cope with the constant violence and injustice he saw consistently on television perpetrated upon people who looked like him.
“A lot of us don’t talk about the effect on our subconscious and how the pain settles in,” Maurice said. “Here they are looking just like me being killed by the police in real-time. I was angry and frustrated. I didn’t know what to do. Out of that frustration I organized, strategized and mobilized.”
The result was WalkGood LA, a nonprofit social justice organization, launched as a means to bring people from all walks of life together to fight and heal in solidarity through the arts, health and wellness because Black Lives Matter today, tomorrow and every day after that. Maurice is the CEO and founder.
During one of the protests, Maurice, himself a runner, decided to run “to honor Ahmaud.”
“I just decided to run through my neighborhood,” said Maurice, who lives in the Mid-City neighborhood. “Others decided to join me and it quickly grew.”
After his cousin, Marley Ralph decided to lead the crowd in some stretches, and eventually lead the one-hour yoga class to aid in collective healing, Maurice knew he was on to something big.
“Something was happening,” he said. “People were into it. That’s when I thought to myself, this can become something. I thought it could bring people together and provide healing.
“The next weekend we started BreatheGood. We decided to protest on Saturdays and to bring healing to the community on Sundays. So, we fight Saturday and heal on Sunday. I definitely feel God’s presence every Sunday.”
Led by Ralph, BreatheGood, held Sundays at L.A. High Memorial Park in Mid-Wilshire, was an alternative for those who would have typically attended services at a formal church. Since churches had closed in 2020, Maurice said many opted for the spirituality of yoga in the park.
“This whole thing started literally as a walk,” said Maurice, who owns his own production company. “I was going to build a community of like-minded people. I was upset. I wanted to lend my voice to the fight. I had to think about how I was going to respond to atrocities when people who look like me are being killed.”
Maurice said the community of social activists quickly “began to grow.”
“I’m a runner,” Maurice said. “I got people to join in all my hobbies. I wasn’t a yogi before, but I am now. I found a new way to keep people socially engaged. It’s about social justice and social equity.
“We are excluded from discussions on health and healing. Some people didn’t have a community. We’re offering them a community. We want people to know we hear you, we see you and we’re here for you. With GoodWalk LA you can meet like-minded people, and conduct spiritual practices. People are excited.”
As the organization began to blossom, Maurice made Ralph the director of health and wellness, and his sister, Ivy Coco, took on the role of vice president.
Maurice’s WalkGood LA proved to be a winner. He found there was a large group of people who also were exasperated by what was happening in the country — and were seeking social justice camaraderie. Throughout the pandemic in 2020, Maurice, his cousin, and his sister organized various town halls, anti-racist protests and free yoga classes in response to police brutality against Black people.
From WalkGood LA came BreatheGood, and RunGood, a 5K that takes place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art every Wednesday at 7 p.m. There is also HikeGood which occurs at several different mountainous locations.
Initially, Maurice, the son of activist and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph (“Moesha” and “Dreamgirls”) was apprehensive about protesting in the streets because eight years ago when he was in Philadelphia, he was shot three times by a father-son duo who robbed him.
“I don’t really remember it because I was inebriated,” Maurice said. “I woke up in the hospital and the nurse told me I had been shot twice in the leg and that one bullet grazed my brow.”
Maurice, 29, has forgiven the men who shot him.
“There is no reason to hold on to that hate in my heart,” he said. “It’s generational. A father and son shot me. That shows you how jacked up it is. Generations are getting involved. It’s an institutional problem.
“I could sit in my house and think about it, but I know what the bigger picture is. I had to learn how to let it go. I’m alive and grateful. I have all my limbs. I can walk and talk. There is a reason I’m here on earth.”
As a survivor of gun violence, Maurice was initially afraid to protest. He especially didn’t want his friends to be harassed.
“I was going to skip out of the protests, but then I thought I would have kids one day and they would ask what I did in the face of injustice,” said Maurice who studied film at Drexel University. “I wanted to be able to tell them I got involved.”
When it comes to gun reform, Maurice believes there is a lot of work to do.
“When it comes to gun violence, nothing has been done to eliminate it,” he said. “You’re only holding a gun because you’re going to get killed or be killed by somebody. I don’t think we need guns to begin with. Guns are being pushed into our communities. Our kids are being killed at a high rate. I am not the biggest fan of guns.”
Maurice named the nonprofit WalkGood as a way of paying homage to his Jamaican heritage and his grandmother. It’s a Jamaican expression. WalkGood means take care of yourself. Walk in good stride when you go out into the world.
He describes WalkGood as a nonprofit, social justice health and wellness organization, but “above all, we’re a family.”
“We’re not a moment, we’re a movement,” Maurice said. “You have to treat each other as family if you’re going to further the movement.”
Each week, up to 300 people meet at LA High Memorial Park to practice yoga in healing solidarity. An average of 50 participate in the neighborhood runs and between 30-50 go on the hikes. All of the programs are free and donation-based. A percentage of the donations have been given to Black Lives Matter.
“I support the statement, Black Lives Matter,” Maurice said. “All Black lives matter. We are reaffirming it matters by holding the space. We keep the Black Lives Matter flag up in the park every Saturday at LA High Memorial Park.”
While they have a captive audience, Maurice said it’s the perfect time to share some knowledge.
“This is how we reel them in,” Maurice said. “We tell people it’s yoga, complete with meditation practitioners. When something big has happened in the community or the city, we have someone from the community speak on it.
“We have talked about Ethiopia, the Asian hate movement, the duality of the Chinese and Black cultures. We’ve had people from the Asian community come out to speak. It’s hard to get people to come to something on a weekly basis. Yoga and healing are first — but we have to be informed.”
Maurice, who produced, wrote, and directed his first feature documentary, “The Last Laugh: A Celebration of Black Sitcoms,” got his activism honestly. He got it from his mom, who got it from her father.
“We’re a family of movers and shakers,” said Maurice, who is also the creative director for the African American Film Critics Association. “My mother will always speak truth to power. She’s my sounding board. I’ve always been inspired by the movements she inspired. I had to find my own fight. This is me finding my voice.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.