Unity and a conversation: How the Purple Initiative is spreading positivity about equality through action and support

About a 3-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Two PICU nurses started the Purple Initiative after an incident of racial insensitivity and banded together to promote diversity, equality and unity.
  • The PICU, and other units, wear purple attire on the third Fridays of each month to signal a movement to create belonging
  • Purple Initiative recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, and is continuing to grow throughout the organization

Meet Mya Johnson-Wheeler, B.S.N., R.N., and Becky Morgan, B.S.N., R.N. They’re nurses in the PICU. They’re work sisters. They’re standing up to racism together.

In December 2020, someone defaced a photo of the two good friends in which they were wearing t-shirts that said, “Drink Water. Love Hard. Fight Racism.”

That negative moment didn’t dissuade them from that fight. It emboldened them.

Welcome to the Purple Initiative.

Johnson-Wheeler, who is Black, and Morgan, who is white, created what became known as Purple Fridays soon thereafter. They invited their fellow colleagues to wear any kind of purple on the third Friday of each month to show unity and respect for all. And the movement has caught on.

“It was a hard pain to experience,” Johnson-Wheeler said. “But it feels good moving forward.”

“We come from different places,” Morgan said. “Mya has been dealing with this for her entire life. We’ll never understand why someone wanted to do this, but I’m glad something positive has come out of it. It opened my eyes a lot.”

Turning Fridays purple was supported by PICU clinical nurse director Michele Derheim, M.S.N., R.N., CNML, and beyond. Since January 2021, the now coined Purple Initiative spread throughout the halls of Mott & Von Voigtlander hospitals and into the Adult Hospitals, too.

“It has been exciting to see the Purple Initiative spread beyond the PICU,” Derheim said. “News spread quickly and by our third month we had staff from units all across Michigan Medicine participating with every shade of purple imaginable.”

From there, the initiative spread. Newsletters distributed throughout the children’s and women’s hospitals encouraged those to wear any shade of purple on the third Friday of the month. It was a simple idea that is now catching on in many places.

The goal of wearing purple is to unify and spark conversations. And it has.

On Jan. 20, the PICU and other units across the organization celebrated the Purple Initiative’s second anniversary. Nursing’s DEI and Wellbeing subcommittee has taken on the Purple Initiative as a key focus.

A reinforcement of the Purple Initiative’s goals is to foster a positive workplace environment through trust and inclusion, which ultimately includes patients and families to improve patient outcomes.

As for Johnson-Wheeler, Morgan’s support and friendship led to something positive. Their friendship and the unity the Purple Initiative afforded kept a talented and trusted nurse like Johnson-Wheeler at Michigan Medicine.

“If it wasn’t for Becky, I would have left,” Johnson-Wheeler said. “I didn’t think that Purple Fridays would have an impact outside the walls of the PICU. These past two years have been so encouraging and I’m looking forward to it expanding throughout Michigan Medicine.”

“I’m so glad we’ve been able to come together and create and grow this,” Morgan said. “Having Mya in my corner and the rest of our teams joining us is so gratifying. It’s a force for good.”

The Purple Initiative rolls along in 2023. Feb. 17 is the next Friday opportunity to wear purple. Johnson-Wheeler and Morgan are collecting photos of units participating – send them here or here.

A Short Takes video released this week provides additional information about the Purple Initiative.