Parent, Educator, and INW Board Member Carolyn Merrill Introduces INW's Commitment to Racial Justice and Service Equity

Scroll down to read Carolyn's personal letter to Independence Northwest customers, families, and their advocates.
Carolyn and Jesse Merrill

Dear Valued Independence Northwest Community:

My name is Carolyn Merrill and I’m one of the directors on INW’s Board of Directors. I am also the mother of a young Black man who experiences a developmental disability.

I’m writing to share with you our commitment to racial justice and to remind you that we are in this together. Everyone deserves safety and dignity and we are here to support and work together with you, our community.

This is an urgent time to start a conversation about safety for everyone in and out of your familiar circle. You undoubtedly feel passionate about the well-being of those you know well, including family members; we all do.


In the words of the late Congressman John Lewis: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.”



Now is the time for us to reach out and extend heartfelt reinforcement of our number one priority: strengthening our community.

One very important way of doing that is supporting the safety of all individuals. As part of our mission, we stand in support of equality and justice; we stand in solidarity with people with disabilities and people of color, often the most vulnerable part of our population.

We celebrate each person and their unique qualities only given to them. Each person is rare, with an amazing blueprint all their own. There are many things we face together today. Safety is key when it comes to racial injustice or COVID-19. Kindness is a bond we can share with our community and practice, doing the right thing for each other.


Here is our commitment:

Independence Northwest’s Commitment to Racial Justice and Service Equity

As a community-led nonprofit, Independence Northwest is committed to the personal, social, and political advancement of Oregonians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). Through our work, we follow the lead of the people we serve, we show up when support is needed, and speak up and out when we witness injustice.

Civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said it well: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free”.

We see and acknowledge the systemic oppression of Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color. It’s real. It’s recognizable. It’s identifiable. Black lives matter.

The United States’ history is rooted in racism – as is Oregon’s. Ours was the only state in the Union whose constitution had a racial exclusion clause, prohibiting existing Black residents from owning real estate and banning any additional People of Color from coming to live here. While that history may have been diluted or erased entirely in history books for generations, the ramifications of those early laws are glaringly apparent in communities across the state.

We witness the effects in the experiences and stories and challenges of neighbors, family members, and the people we serve.



History is gravity. And it can hold a people down just as much as it can ground a people.

25 Year Old Amaud Arbery
26 Year Old Breonna Taylor
46 Year Old George Floyd

These are but three of countless daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends, and fellow human beings our country has lost. People senselessly killed. Their lives, unrecoverable. 


Addressing inequities is a critical part of our work. True, lasting change requires more than a statement of intent. We know there is trauma in racism and when any of us add our voice to the fight against it, that engagement carries serious responsibility.



Across the weeks and months and years ahead, Independence Northwest commits to discussion, education, exploration, partnership, and action together across our agency, the people we serve, and our community partners.



We are dedicated to the celebration and illumination of diversity and we extend our support to all who are victims of institutionalized discrimination.



We pledge to listen, show up, and speak out.

(Continuation of Carolyn’s note:)




Thank you for taking the time to read our commitment to the community. Your health and safety is paramount.


As a lifelong educator, it comes naturally for me to ask, “What more would you like to explore, share, or write concerning this topic?” 


We do not have all the answers but we want you to know that we are here for you – whether you’d like to talk about your experiences, offer up your perspective on the ideas and commitments expressed in our statement, or explore community resources. We’re here to listen and learn and grow with you.


Feel free to reach out to us by talking directly with your Personal Agent or emailing us at




Carolyn Merrill


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