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"Although I don't deserve it, I want to ask for your forgiveness," Levi Pettit says

He was one of two students expelled from the University of Oklahoma over a racist fraternity chant

"From this point forward, I will be the leader that I should have been," he says

CNN  — 

Levi Pettit, who was expelled from the University of Oklahoma for spouting a racist chant at a fraternity activity, says he’s “deeply sorry.”

“Although I don’t deserve it, I want to ask for your forgiveness,” Pettit said as he read from a prepared statement at a news conference on Wednesday. “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 that were said in that chant were mean, hateful and racist.”

Flanked at the podium by African American leaders who he’d been meeting with at the Fairview Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Pettit, who is white, said he planned to spend the rest of his life trying to undo the damage he’d done.

Pettit’s parents released a statement apologizing for his behavior earlier this month. But it wasn’t until Wednesday that he spoke out himself.

“Some have wondered why I haven’t spoken out publicly. The truth is, I’ve had a mix of pain, shame, sorrow and fear over the consequences of my actions,” he said. “I did not want to apologize to the press or to the whole country first, until I came here to apologize to the community most directly impacted.”

Pettit read from a letter he’d written the university’s president apologizing for his actions and said he’s committed to taking steps to prevent racism in the future.

“Over the past week or so, I’ve met with a number of pastors and leaders in the community to seek understanding of the meaning behind the words that I spoke on that bus,” Pettit said. “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.”

His comments come more than two weeks after a nine-second clip surfaced showing party-bound fraternity members on a bus making racial slurs against blacks.

In it, students at the now-disbanded Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma clap, pump their fists and laugh as they hurl racial slurs and make a reference to lynching.

School officials expelled Pettit and another student, Parker Rice, because of their alleged “leadership role” in the racist chant.

Rice has also apologized, saying he’d made a “horrible mistake” and that the chant was “wrong and reckless.”

Pettit declined to answer reporters’ questions Wednesday about how he learned the chant, but said he now knows that the words he used never should be repeated.

“I’m also upset and embarrassed that I failed to stand up as a leader and stop this chant. I now have a clear understanding of what lives behind the words,” he said. “From this point forward, I will be the leader that I should have been on that bus and stand up against racism in any form.”

CNN’s Faith Karimi, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Justin Lear contributed to this report.