Can He Heal the Wounds?

updated 02/05/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/05/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

Bobby Shaw speaks warmly of Karin Stanford, his former neighbor at a garden apartment complex in a working-class section of southeast Los Angeles. "A nice, mannerly girl," says Shaw, 49, a supervisor at a hospital. "When Karin went off to school, we had a party for her. We were real proud of her."

Stanford, now 39, would earn a doctorate from Howard University and teach political science and African-American studies at the University of Georgia. But she remained a regular visitor to the old neighborhood. In recent years she also occasionally brought a guest—the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, who had hired her to run the Washington, D.C., office of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "Jesse would stay out here and talk to us," says Shaw. Once the civil rights leader even shot some hoops with locals. "He rolled up his sleeves, loosened his tie and played for a good little while." When rumors began to surface a couple of years ago that Jackson was having an affair with an L.A. woman, "we figured that's who it was," Shaw says. "But it wasn't any big deal to us."

It was something more than that when on Jan. 18, in the face of a National Enquirer story, Jackson, 59, admitted he had not only conducted an adulterous liaison with Stanford but also fathered her daughter Ashley, now 20 months. "I love this child very much and have assumed responsibility for her emotional and financial support since she was born," said Jackson, who sends Stanford $3,000 monthly. Noting that he, too, was born out of wedlock, he announced that he would take time off "to revive my spirit and reconnect with my family before I return to my public ministry."

It appeared to be a speedy revival. After huddling for three days in his Tudor-style Chicago mansion with his wife, Jackie, 56, and their grown children, Jackson returned to the pulpit at Chicago's Salem Baptist Church. "After 38 years and five children, Jackie, we are still here," he said, turning to his wife as the Sunday morning congregation erupted in cheers. Explaining his quick reemergence, Jackson told Associated Press he had been buoyed by calls from everyone from Bill Clinton and Barbra Streisand to George W. Bush and Jerry Falwell. "The ground," Jackson said, "is no place for a champion."

Friends say Jackson's family, especially Jackie, are devastated by the affair. Time will tell what impact his indiscretion will have among African-Americans and beyond. After all, he is a minister who lectures youths on responsible sex. Granted, Jackson rushed to Bill Clinton's defense during the Monica Lewinsky scandal (and ironically brought a pregnant Stanford to the White House in 1998). "This is a challenge that should not be minimized," says the Reverend Al Sharpton, a New York civil rights activist and Jackson pal, "but it will not be fatal."

By all accounts, Stanford is an outstanding academic, liked for her vivacity and admired for the courage she showed in the late '90s while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, the disease that killed her younger sister Toni. "She was touched very seriously by the notion of her own mortality and wanted people to accept and love her," says R. Baxter Miller, 52, a professor of English at the University of Georgia. "Karin would be the first to tell you she enjoys flirtation. But she always knew where the line was."

That line blurred after Jackson, whom she met while researching a 1997 book about his international diplomatic efforts, hired Stanford for Operation Rainbow. Five months after Ashley's birth in May 1999, Stanford relocated to L.A., where her mother, Maudestine, 62, still lives, aided by $35,000 in moving expenses and a salary advance. Apparently still affiliated with Rainbow, Stanford consults for the Yucaipa Companies, an investment firm for which she does research on economic development in low-income communities. In late 1999, she bought a $365,000 split-level home in Baldwin Hills, an affluent black neighborhood.

While Stanford has kept a low profile, Ashley's father strode into Salem Baptist Church Jan. 21 to applause, hand in hand with Jackie. "I believe the family will make it through," says Rev. Andre Allen, who has known Jackson for a quarter century. "They understand the Christian faith of forgiveness."

Richard Jerome
Karen Grigsby Bates and Maureen Harrington in Los Angeles, Trine Tsouderos in Chicago and J. Todd Foster in Washington, D.C.

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