School board member in New Jersey resigns after blackface pictures resurface
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A school board member in New Jersey resigned this week after pictures of him wearing blackface in high school resurfaced.

Dan Eller stepped down from the Northern Valley Regional High School Board of Education on Thursday after facing mounting pressure from his colleagues and the community, NorthJersey.com reported

Eller issued an apology insisting he is not racist, saying his use of blackface was based on naivety at the time. 

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"I heard the pain in many people’s voices as they recounted their experiences through the years at Northern Valley," he said. "The statement was made many times that I did not adequately own up to the situation. I don’t know how else to do it so I will again claim full responsibility for those actions and apologize to every person who has been hurt by them."

The pictures showed Eller, 30, wearing blackface at a Halloween party in 2008 when he was a teenager. He is a graduate of of the Northern Valley Old Tappan High School and was elected to the school board in 2016.

Earlier this week, an anonymous email was reportedly sent to the media and public officials depicting Eller wearing blackface and a wig. The email triggered immediate backlash.

An online petition began circulating calling for his resignation, which has garnered more than 2,700 signatures. Alanna Cooper, co-president of Valley for Change, a grassroots movement that seeks to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, started the campaign.

“Valley for Change is committed to strengthening and diversifying the curriculum in the Northern Valley school district,” the group said in a statement. “Eller’s racist actions represent a failure of our education system in a whole.”

The school district has about 2,400 students enrolled in three schools. The students and staff are overwhelmingly white, according to the outlet. 

Eller initially rejected calls to step down and said he "lacked the perspective and maturity to know better" at the time. He said he would use his position on the board to "help heighten the awareness and sensitivity of racism."

Students and alumni gathered on Wednesday for a special 7-hour school board meeting and gave passionate pleas for him to resign.

Sophie Clark, a junior at Northern Valley at Old Tappan, said she was “disgusted” by Eller’s actions and believed the age at which he wore blackface should not be used as an excuse. 

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“I’m 17 years old and I would never, ever wear blackface,” Clark said, according to NorthJersey.com.

Seven of the nine members of the school board also called for Eller to voluntarily step down.

"The only solution to this is Dan needs to step down," said trustee Drew Porschen. "By stepping down, he sets an example and shows our students that the behavior will not be tolerated. Students are craving diversity, and with that diversity brings true understanding and reform." 

However, Eller still resisted calls to resign during the meeting, which ran into the early morning hours. 

"I know this is not a popular thing for me to say right now. Everyone wants something right now. I need a little bit of time, and I'm going to make a decision," he said. 

He ultimately resigned on Thursday and thanked the students who spoke out for their "activism and confidence."

"I certainly did not agree with everything that was said about me personally but regardless I am immensely proud of you," he said in resignation letter. "Speaking your heart and mind in a public meeting is never easy, especially one as emotional as last night. Your activism and confidence is commendable."

He also called on the board to recruit a person of color to replace him. 

The remaining eight members of the school board said they will ask the district to form a task force to implement measures intended to combat racism.

“The board believes that Mr. Eller’s resignation demonstrates that there are serious and profound consequences for one’s actions and unacceptable behavior and will be a first step to begin healing the pain expressed by many of the students,” the board said in a statement.

The photos of Eller re-emerged amid a national conversation about racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody.

Late night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have both faced criticism in recent weeks for wearing blackface during skits, leading the former to go on hiatus for the summer.

Popular TV shows like “30 Rock” and “Scrubs” have removed episodes that depicted characters in blackface.

- Updated 11:54 a.m.