The Buddy System

They met because they wanted to fight gangs. Ten years later, Leon Kelly and Lloyd Lewan are a gang of two.

Leon is late, as usual, and Lloyd is early, as usual, and they both know this about each other, but it seldom changes their estimated times of arrival. This is the way they are, and they seem to like it fine.

When the ex-con meets the corporate executive, which is quite often, they collide like a couple of fullbacks, embracing one another with bone-crunching, back-thumping, beer-commercial abrazos.

"Love you, man."
"Love you, too."
Lloyd Lewan has traveled around the world so many times, he knows true friends are as rare as blue diamonds. And the Reverend Leon Kelly has eulogized so many people along the inner-city streets of Denver that he wants his buddy to have no doubts about the way he feels.

Some people stare. A few grin. Lloyd and Leon could care less. They talk awhile, joke around, embrace again and leave. Back to their separate worlds.

Lloyd works on the third floor of a sleek building with tinted windows on the endless strip mall that is Colorado Boulevard. He is board chairman of Lewan & Associates, an office-technologies firm founded in 1972 by his entrepreneur brother, Paul, Lewan's president and CEO. Lloyd handles long-range strategy while Paul tackles the day-to-day operations. Together they have made the multi-million-dollar firm into one of Colorado's thirty top private companies.

Leon works in the historic seventh-floor dinginess of the Colorado Building, overlooking the panhandlers, hotdog vendors and office workers mingling along the 16th Street Mall. He's executive director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives and the recipient of at least forty civic awards, including a U.S. Senate Congressional Award, the Jefferson Award for Voluntary Public Service and the Colorado African-American Male Image Award.

Lloyd is a former Marine Corps officer and college professor, the former chief academic officer and executive dean of the Semester at Sea program and current chairman of the Institute for Ship Board Organization. He holds a Ph.D. in complex organizational theory, wrote a book called Women in the Workplace: A Man's Perspective and is writing another, titled Dare to Be a Leader.

Leon is a former drug dealer and an ex-penitentiary inmate. He's an ordained minister of the Maranatha Church of God in Christ, a holder of a Ph.D. from the Family Bible Institute of Denver, a former power forward for a University of Colorado AAU basketball team and an all-time scorer on the Canon City prison basketball team.

Lloyd's desk is big, broad and glossy. His walls are decorated with photos of him with Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Cosby and Dottie Lamm.

Leon's desk is cluttered with unopened mail, jars of candy and water toys for visiting kids. His walls are plastered with service awards and photos of him with Evander Holyfield, Jesse Jackson and members of the Crips and Bloods. The largest: a portrait of his parents.

Lloyd wears a gray suit, blue-striped shirt and red silk tie. His beard is carefully manicured, his face is etched with character lines, and his eyeglasses are perched perpetually on his forehead. "Don't print my age," he groans. "I hate it when newspapers do that."

Leon is 45. He wears a white Open Door T-shirt, black shorts, white Converse basketball shoes (size fifteen) and a gold crucifix. In a booming, six-foot-five-inch, 256-pound voice that registers somewhere between those of Barry White and Lieutenant Worf, he tells errant children, "I have no problem snatching off your face."

Lloyd is divorced with no children. Leon is also divorced, now remarried, with three biological children, five other kids he raises as his own and a thousand children he takes under his wing.

Lloyd likes biographies of world leaders such as Gandhi and International News on public television. Leon reads the Bible, Sports Illustrated, "anything on gangs" and likes action movies, bowling and table tennis--"definitely not Ping-Pong."

When Lloyd has something to say, which is often, he looks you in the eye, taps your elbow and utters lines like "I can smell bullshit at a hundred yards." When Leon has something to say, which is less often, he does it with a gesture, a glance and a growled "Don't you try me."

They met in 1987 in Lloyd's living room during a male-leadership support meeting, a gathering drawn together to deal with the Crips and Bloods gangs just surfacing in Denver. Two years later, Lloyd joined the board of Leon's Open Door. They have been best friends ever since.

"It trips me out when people find out who he is and who I am," Kelly says. "But the common denominator is kids."

"We're like the Odd Couple," Lloyd adds. "I think you can say that."

Her name is Yolanda, and she wants to see what all the fuss is about over shooting this white powder, so Leon and his partner break out the coke. Yolanda fingers the syringe and takes a hit. Then she gags, twitches, falls to the floor and hits her head on Leon's barbells.

"Oh, shit!"
"Did she OD or what?"
Leon's partner panics and leaves. One thought runs through Leon's head: No way can police find a dead woman in his apartment. Not with his stash. Not with his guns. If this woman dies, he's pitching her into a dumpster.

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