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Ellie Kemper apologizes for participation in Veiled Prophet debutante ball

The former "Office" star came under fire after a photo resurfaced showing her at the event over 20 years ago.
/ Source: TODAY

Ellie Kemper is breaking her silence to apologize to fans for participating in a Veiled Prophet Organization event as a teen.

The former "Office" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" star, 41, came under fire last week after a 1999 photograph showing her at a debutante ball hosted by the St. Louis-based organization, which has a long history of racism, resurfaced on social media.

Kemper, then a 19-year-old student at Princeton University, was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty at the annual event.

"Hi guys — when I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown. The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past. I was not aware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved," Kemper wrote Monday in a lengthy Instagram post.

“I unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy. At the same time, I acknowledge that because of my race and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards," she continued.

Ellie Kemper
Kemper shared a message on Instagram Monday, one week after the photo of her at the debutante ball circulated on social media.Mark Davis / Getty Images

The VPO was created in the 1800s by a group of wealthy white businessmen and politicians in St. Louis, and has historically celebrated a white cultural elite in the city, according to Kelsey Klotz, lecturer at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who wrote about the organization for NBC News' THINK.

"The VPO was built on a potent mixture of secrecy, elitism, pomp and ritual, and it was intended to reassert the power and values of the wealthy white men who considered themselves to be the true fathers of St. Louis," wrote Klotz.

After 100 years of banning Black members, the VPO desegregated in 1979.

After the old St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo showing a young Kemper at the ball wearing a white gown and gloves resurfaced online over Memorial Day weekend, the actor became a trending Twitter topic.

"There is a very natural temptation, when you become the subject of internet criticism, to tell yourself that your detractors are getting it all wrong," Kemper wrote in Monday's Instagram post. "But at some point last week, I realized that a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I've spent my life supporting and agreeing with."

The "Bridesmaids" star, who reportedly comes from a prominent banking family in St. Louis, went on to say that she strongly believes "in the values of kindness, integrity, and inclusiveness."

"If my experience is an indication that organizations and institutions with pasts that fall short of these beliefs should be held to account, then I have to see this experience in a positive light," she wrote.

Kemper concluded her message by saying she was sorry.

"I want to apologize to the people I’ve disappointed, and I promise that moving forward I will listen, continue to educate myself, and use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming," she wrote.