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Kwame Patterson's latest role pivots from 'bad guys and gangsters' to therapy and family

‘David Makes Man’ actor Kwame Patterson is normalizing vulnerability in Black men on television-and in real life.

The actor Kwame Patterson has become known for playing a certain type of character.

“Obviously, I’m used to playing plenty of bad guys and gangsters,” he said, perhaps most notably for his turn as the gritty but lovable Monk Metcalf on “The Wire,” and later “American Crime Story” and most recently, “Snowfall.”

The season two premiere of OWN’s “David Makes Man,” airing June 22, will allow viewers to see a new side of Patterson as an actor. He says this is a welcome change.

“To be able to play a role with so much vulnerability and emotion … it was a dream come true for me,” he said.

Kwame Patterson.Dimitry Loiseau

Patterson was drawn to the character David because he longed to show his range as an actor. Now, he said, he’s playing what he calls his “biggest role to date.”

Season one of “David Makes Man'' followed a young gifted David, played by Akili McDowell, navigating life in urban South Florida. The season finale saw David receiving a recommendation from his teacher to gain entry into the elite Hurston Prep. In this season, David, now in his 30s, continues his evolution while looking back at the moments that made him a man.

“Some of the biggest changes is just David starting to finally tap into his vulnerability and his emotion and going to therapy,” Patterson said. “You know, David struggles with communication. He doesn’t know how to talk to his family. So you'll start to see older David navigating these things and starting to see whether or not these walls come down or not.”

Another focal point of the upcoming season will be the relationship between David and his mother, Gloria. Played by Alana Arenas, Gloria is a single mother who fiercely protects her two sons, David and J.G. She is compassionate, resourceful and yet a woman overcoming her own personal demons. The present-day Gloria cares for children in a group home while trying to reconcile with her adult son David.

“His mom gives so much love to so many people,” he said. “He's watching her nurture these children the way he wasn’t nurtured. We get to see their relationship grow. It starts off rocky and then hopefully, it turns into something lovely.”

With viral hashtags like #YouGoodMan, there has been a cultural reckoning to prioritize creating more safe spaces for Black men to fully express their emotions. Often, Black men find themselves suffering in silence due to lack of mental health resources, stigmas and race-based trauma. According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Black people are 20 times more likely than white people to deal with psychological distress.

The playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is one of the visionaries shedding cultural stigmas associated with mental health and vulnerability of Black men through his work. His play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” became the inspiration for the Oscar award-winning film, “Moonlight.”

Now, McCraney is the creator behind “David Makes Man.” New York Times’ critic Salamishah Tillet praised the show for having “hyper-vibrant aesthetics steeped in magical realism.” Various critics have also praised the show for unabashedly exploring themes of Black boyhood, Black male vulnerability, coming of age and toxic masculinity.

Patterson said working alongside creatives such as McCraney and McDowell helped him “tap into emotions he didn’t even realize he had.”

“I learned so much from Tarrell, from our director, and Akili,” who plays younger David, he said. “It was like getting a free masterclass. I just felt like I grew the most I've ever grown as an artist.”

Though he appears calm and self-assured leading up to the OWN premiere, he reveals that his calling wasn’t clear to him at first. After deciding to leave the military and return home to his native Baltimore, Patterson fell into acting.

He admits he originally aimed for a small role on season four of his favorite show to impress his friends. That show just so happened to be “The Wire.”

“I think I booked ‘The Wire’ when I was 28. I wasn't trying to be a professional actor,” Patterson said. “Even after season four, I still didn't know if I was going to come back until David Simon said to me, ‘How would you like to be on the show?”

Given the recent Derek Chauvin verdict in the death of George Floyd and the string of killings of Black people by police, Patterson said he understands the timeliness and urgency of a series like “David Makes Man.” More than ever, Black boys and men are in need of love and acceptance on-screen and off-screen.

Patterson commends the parental figures in his life.

“I always had my mother, my grandmother, and my cousins around to try to keep me on the right track, whether it was mentally, spiritually or emotionally,” he said.

Patterson urges young Black men to look for a mentor as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. For young David, it was Sky and his school counselor, Dr. Bree.

“You're going to go through as a Black man — young or old — you're going to go through things growing up in this society,” he said. “So, if you have somebody that you can talk to, they can help you with that. That's going to help make it a lot easier than trying to do it on your own.”

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CORRECTION (June 22, 2021, 10:35 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the creator of "David Makes Man." He is Tarell Alvin McCraney.