Newly elected NJ councilor apologizes for blackface photo

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A newly elected New Jersey city councilor apologized on Saturday for wearing blackface several years ago as part of a Halloween costume, after a local anti-racism group demanded he atone for his actions or resign.

Vincent Kelly, 62, was one of two Republicans to win seats earlier this week on the Pitman Council in Gloucester County, according to preliminary election results. Shortly after, the Pitman Anti-Racist Collective raised concerns about a photo online showing Kelly in blackface.

“I apologize to anyone who might be offended by my costume choice years ago,” Kelly wrote in a statement posted on the Pitman GOP Facebook page.

Kelly said he attended a Halloween party in 2008 where guests dressed up as celebrities. He chose Flavor Flav, the rapper best known for having co-founded the group Public Enemy.

“Back then, Flavor Flav’s ‘yeah boy’ cries made him incredibly popular,” and “wearing the costume was a celebration of his fame,” Kelly said in the statement.

He said he “briefly” used the photo years later on his Facebook page “during the Halloween season.”

The photo no longer appears to be online.

“I understand that we live in a very different time and today, even to celebrate his fame, I wouldn’t even consider wearing a costume that included a blackface,” he added.

Kelly has promised to contact the Pitman Anti-Racist Collective to have “an open and honest dialogue.”

In response, the group said it was “relieved that Councilor-elect Kelly has apologized and acknowledged the seriousness of appearing in blackface,” according to a statement from spokesperson Judy Walker and other members.

The collective is eager to speak and hopes the city councilor will participate in training on diversity, equity and inclusion, the statement said.

The goal was not to “cancel” elected city councilor Kelly, but to educate him on the blatant practice of appearing in blackface and the harm it can cause, ”Walker’s statement added.

Gloucester County Republican Party Chairman Jacqueline Vigilante previously said Kelly’s costume choice “does not reflect who he is as a person, a candidate and who he will be as a councilor.”

Vigilante suggested that the controversy may have been motivated in part to distract from recent GOP electoral victories in the county.

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Blake Nelson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @BCunninghamN.

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