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A different kind of Businessmen

Members of the Businessmen, a South Los Angeles gang from the 1950s and ‘60s, are now advocating against the pervasive crime and violence that their group helped to create. From left: John “Butch” Lemon, 62, Eddie Meador, 59, Carter Spikes, 61, Shane Stringer, 64, and Kevin Juju, 56. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Spikes, Lemon and Stringer, from left, enjoy a laugh after a meeting at the Avalon-Carver Community Center in South Los Angeles. The Businessmen have always congregated around South Park at 51st Street and Avalon Boulevard, where most of them grew up. They now have an office across the street from the park and have applied for nonprofit status with the IRS. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The Businessmen engage in a prayer before their meeting Tuesday night. From left: Meador, Alonzo Jones, Stringer, Spikes and Lemon. In their younger days, the former gang members got in fights with other area gangs. Some sold drugs and others were arrested for robbery and burglary. Though gun violence was less common in their day, Spikes recalled that illegal firearms were readily available on the street. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Jones wears a pair of sunglasses and a gold cross at a meeting of the Businessmen. In the 1960s, the gang members tried to dress well despite their empty pockets. Leather jackets and homburg hats were popular, and some even wore tailored silk suits. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
After serving in Vietnam, John “Butch” Lemon returned a drug addict. He later went to work for the school district and taught his two sons about his past, urging them to avoid the gang associations that continue to plague South L.A. He said he’s proud that the Businessmen have turned their legacy around, now serving as “assets” to the community rather than “liabilities.” (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)