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Lem Van Adams is a fictional character from the Showtime television series Soul Food. The character first appeared in the 1997 film Soul Food as Lem Harris, and was portrayed by Mekhi Phifer. In the television series, the surname was changed to Van Adams, the role was assumed by Darrin Dewitt Henson.

Character Background

A lifelong resident of Chicagomarker, Lem is the only son of Lynette Van Adams (Debbi Morgan) and a man named Lemuel (who may or may not have been Lynette's husband). Although the couple originally named their son after Lemuel, Lynette legally changed the boy's name to "Lem" after the relationship soured. Lem was raised in an impoverished environment, and was exposed to many adult situations at a young age, including the reality of his mother's multiple relationships with men. In fact, most of Lem's family members were negative influences, with the notable exception of his cousin Jack (Gary Dourdan). Eventually, Lem became a drug dealer, working primarily with a man nicknamed "Philky" (Treach). After several arrests, he was convicted on felony drug charges and sent to prison for five years. Upon his release, he resolved to live as a law-abiding citizen. Soon, he fell in love with hair stylist Tracy "Bird" Joseph (Nia Long, Malinda Williams). The two were married, and moved in with Bird's mother Josephine, and Josephine's senile brother Pete (John M. Watson Sr., Ardon Bess). The couple remained in the house after Josephine's death, and Pete eventually returned to his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippimarker.

Although most of the Joseph family accepted Lem with open arms, Bird's sister Teri (Vanessa L. Williams, Nicole Ari Parker) clashed with him frequently. Lem was almost sent back to prison after Teri misinterpreted the outcome of an argument that he and Bird had about one of her former suitors, Simuel St. James (Mel Jackson). Mistakenly believing that Lem had physically struck Bird, Teri called her cousin Blimp to "teach him a lesson". More than capable of handling himself, Lem quickly gained the upper hand in the ensuing confrontration, but the police became involved. Only after Teri called in a few favors was Lem able to avoid prison. Eventually, Lem and Teri worked out their differences and established a strong family relationship. When Teri's engagement to sports agent Damon Carter (Boris Kodjoe) began to fall apart, no one came to her aid more quickly than Lem.

Often the first suspect when a crime occurred, Lem was falsely accused of arson when J&H Groceries burned to the ground. The store was owned by Bird and her two sisters, and managed by Lem until his resignation just before the fire. Through the efforts of Teri and her legal colleague Bob Wayne (Christopher B. Duncan), Lem was soon exonerated. His brother-in-law Kenny Chadway (Jeffrey D. Sams, Rockmond Dunbar) hired him at his company, Chadway Towing. Simultaneously, Lem began working for local entrepreneur Baron Marks (Michael Warren). Baron was also a former street thug and, coincidentally, a former suitor of Lem's mother Lynette. When Lem's nephew Ahmad (Brandon Hammond, Aaron Meeks) witnessed a drug-related murder, Baron was instrumental in protecting the boy from harm.

Gradually, Baron and Lem formed a strong father-son bond, much to the chagrin of Baron's actual son Cameron (Usher). Insecure and jealous, Cameron ruined his relationship with his father trying to belittle Lem in Baron's eyes. Eventually, Baron died of heart disease, leaving a devastated Lem without the only father figure he had ever truly known.

The lessons that Lem learned as a grocery store manager and a budding entrepreneur were not lost. Eventually, he opened his own independent grocery store on Chicago's South Sidemarker. It was so successful that the major supermarket stores in the neighborhood went out of business, allowing he and Bird to purchase a huge home of their own, and move out of the Joseph family house.


  1. In the film, Lem is a native of New York.
  2. In one of the episodes from Season 1, Lem states that he has brothers. However it is a passing reference, and they are never mentioned again.

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