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Former SAE fraternity member apologizes for racist chant

Flanked by black community leaders, Levi Pettit apologized to those he said he had hurt and said he would pledge his life to overcoming racism.

Flanked by black community leaders, one of the former University of Oklahoma SAE fraternity brothers captured on video singing a racist chant apologized Wednesday to those he had hurt and said he would pledge his life to fighting racism. 

"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 the person who heals and brings people of all races together," Levi Pettit said in a press conference in Oklahoma City.

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Oklahoma State Sen. Anastasia A. Pittman, the chair of the Oklahoma Black Caucus, thanked the media in her introduction for "giving us this opportunity to introduce Levi Pettit to the world."

Pettit, who met with black civic leaders and pastors prior to the press conference, delivered a prepared statement in which he expressed regret and asked for forgiveness.

"The people I met with have opened my eyes to things I wasn’t exposed to before this event," Pettit added during a brief question and answer session, saying he hadn't understood the hurt his words caused. "I think I knew they were wrong, but I never knew why or how they were wrong."

He would not discuss the chant, however, or say where he learned it or who taught it to him.

"I'm not here to talk about where I learned the chant or where it was taught. I'm here to apologize for what I did," Pettit said.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon closed its University of Oklahoma chapter earlier this month after video surfaced of fraternity members taking part in the chant, which included a racial epithet and a reference to lynching. The university expelled Pettit and another student, Parker Rice. Rice has since apologized, calling the experience a "devastating lesson," and Pettit's family issued an apology in which they called their son's behavior "disgusting."

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Stephen Jones, an attorney for the local SAE chapter, told NBC News on Wednesday that an agreement had been reached with the university, and that no other fraternity members would be expelled.

After Pettit left the room, Pittman returned to the microphone to celebrate the former frat member's meeting with the community as a teachable moment, and called on Oklahoma legislators to increase students' exposure to black history and studies as part of their high school education. 

Pettit's apology was less well-received on Twitter, where many expressed incredulity toward his mea culpea. "You don't get to use Black people as a force field and expect me to believe that you're sorry," wrote Imani Gandy, a lawyer and author of the "Angry Black Lady" blog. "You want me to believe you’re sorry? Explain how you learned the song."