GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of basketball players at Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids may never go pro, but they are certainly players in a game-changing conversation.

“Where I grow up from, masculine was, ‘You got the guy with the gun, he got drugs on him, he got a whole bunch of money and he’s taking care of everybody,'” said Tyrece Smith, a student at Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids.

Smith said those men only expressed signs of dominance, toughness and aggression. 

Society has historically used those traits to define masculinity, but Smith and his classmate, Johncarlos Gonzales, say that’s changing.

Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids students Tyrece Smith and Johncarlos Gonzales speak with News 8's Donovan Long.
Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids students Tyrece Smith and Johncarlos Gonzales speak with News 8’s Donovan Long.

“We’re evolving so much,” said Smith. “Once upon a time, you couldn’t tell another man you love him.”

“It’s power in showing your emotions and showing your real side,” Gonzales added.

A photographer recently captured the bond actors Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors share for a New York Times piece about their new movie, “Creed III.”

“It was a form of Black love expressed through males,” said Christopher Lovelady, director of the mentor program at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation.

The photo of the men went viral. Internet users questioned their manhood, while others defended it, like Smith and Gonzales’ mentor, Lovelady.

“I think it was the next level, in some aspects, of what Black masculinity is starting to look like,” said Lovelady. “I’ve been an advocate in creating that shift.”

Lovelady also created a safe space for Smith and Gonzales to be vulnerable.

“I think that’s something our young men don’t hear often, and I encourage young men to find someone they can be vulnerable to,” said Lovelady.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.”

Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids students play basketball.
Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids students play basketball.

“You see it (manifest) in anxiety, depression and substance abuse,” said Marvin McKenzie Jr., mental health and substance abuse therapist at Arbor Circle.

McKenize Jr. said positive affirmations from fathers or father figures can help those issues in a young man.

“That gets engrained,” said McKenzie Jr. “They begin to believe it, they start to feel good about themselves, their self-confidence and self-esteem gets built, and that gets transferred into adulthood.”

Some men, like Smith and Gonzales, learned to be a man on their own.

“I didn’t have a dad,” Gonzales said.

So they’re using the lessons they’ve earned on the basketball court to give manhood their best shot.

“I learned from not having a dad, and I have seen what type of toll it took on me, so why not learn and relearn and try something different,” Gonzales said.