Chain Reaction: A Youth-driven, Multimedia Storytelling Project Promoting Alternatives to Calling the Police


  • Sarah Brewster
  • Jane Hereth


The authors detail their work with Chain Reaction, a Chicago-based participatory action research and popular education project working to spark conversations about alternatives to calling the police on young people. As volunteers for Chain Reaction, we facilitated a series of workshops an LGBTQ youth center in which youth used digital audio recorders to interview each other about their experiences with police, then curated the stories for a toolkit on alternatives to policing. As the stories consistently reflect, when young people become involved with the police, it often sets off a chain reaction that can result in dropping out of school, losing jobs, and ongoing contact with state systems. The goal of Chain Reaction is to support community-based strategies for stopping these cycles. We explore the theoretical frameworks and the limitations and successes of the project, and offer suggestions for those interested in doing similar projects.

Author Biographies

Sarah Brewster

Sarah Brewster is a social researcher and youth worker from Chicago.  Sarah received her BS in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies from Illinois College and an MA in Sociology from DePaul University. Sarah believes deeply in the importance and transformative power of documenting and creating alternate histories, realities and futures through the use of research, storytelling, and science fiction.


Jane Hereth

Jane Hereth is an educator, organizer, and social worker living in Chicago. As a volunteer with Project NIA, Jane works to dismantle the prison-industrial complex and to develop community-based responses to harm and violence. She coordinates a behavioral research study on HIV prevention among transgender youth. She holds an MSW from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a BA in sociology from Grinnell College.