The 10-second clip was as shocking as it was disgusting. Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma gleefully chanted the N-word in a racist song that alluded to lynching. Coming the day after President Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the bloody march from Selma to Montgomery with a powerful speech on our nation and race, the video was especially jarring.
But yesterday, one of the two expelled university students did something extraordinary. Flanked by African American leaders and clergy from Oklahoma City he met with before his nationally televised mea culpa, 20-year-old Levi Pettit apologized without equivocation and asked forgiveness with a humility far too many fail to muster.
Let me start by saying that I am sorry, deeply sorry. I am so sorry for the pain I have caused, and I want all of you to know that directly from me. Although I don’t deserve it, I ask for your forgiveness.
There are no excuses for my behavior. I never thought of myself as a racist. I never considered it a possibility. But the bottom line is that the words I said in the chant were mean, hateful and racist. I will be deeply sorry and deeply ashamed of what I have done for the rest of my life….
Meeting with a few people does not change what I did, but it has begun to change me, and my understanding of those hateful words. Without question, my words on that bus were disgusting and these words should never be repeated under any circumstance.
I am also upset and embarrassed that I failed to stand up as a leader and stop this chant. I now have a clearer understanding of what lives behind the words. From this point forward, I will be the leader I should have been on the bus and stand up against racism in any form.
Now, before I take a couple of your questions, let me just say this: All the apologies in the world won’t change what I have done. So I will spend the rest of my life trying to be a person who heals and brings people of all races together. That is what I hope and pray will come out of this.
After Pettit’s apology, a Twitter follower was skeptical upon hearing my words of acceptance on television last night. He didn’t believe Pettit’s apology was authentic. He thought Pettit was only falling on his sword because he got caught. And he wondered why the others chanting the racist song weren’t also asking forgiveness. I get that sentiment. But watching Pettit, the reason is clear. He is the only one with enough guts to meet with those he offended, apologize to them and do so publicly. Pettit will be making amends for the rest of his life. His efforts should be met with open minds and open hearts.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj