Storycatchers Theatre and CPD Expand Youth-Police Interactive Empathy Workshop

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Effort aims to reduce negative interactions among police and youth

Storycatchers Theatre, a non-profit dedicated to empowering justice-involved youth through musical theatre, is embarking on its third year of programming with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). The program brings together new CPD recruits and justice-involved youth in a role-reversal workshop during the first 26-week of the recruit’s 18-month training program. Every CPD recruit has participated since the program’s inception in 2017 – more than 2,200 to date.

The workshop is designed to build empathy between future officers and the at-risk youth they may encounter. In the simulation, recruits and previously incarcerated youths step into each other’s roles to sing and act out an emotionally charged traffic stop. The effort allows each party to understand motivations, hopes, fears, and options from an opposing viewpoint.

“We started this workshop because we believed Storycatchers could fill a growing chasm between black and brown Chicago youth and members of law enforcement,” said Storycatchers Theatre Executive Director Priya Shah. “We saw an opportunity to leverage our youths’ voices alongside police protocol to build trust and ideally help prevent incidents that often occur out of fear and misunderstanding on both sides.”

"This workshop has become imperative for constructing a future in which we see one another first through what unites us,” said Robin Robinson, CPD Director of Restorative Justice Strategies. “The positive feedback we’ve received from recruits and participating youth is a testament to its power."

For the youths themselves, this exercise provides a real opportunity to be a part of the transformation of the criminal justice system by making personal connections and showing how we can all make choices that create more positive outcomes.

“Going to CPD workshops really helps me connect with the recruits,” said Storycatchers youth, La’Keisha. “I think it's such a great opportunity to sit down with the new generation of police officers and tell them where we're coming from and our point of view so they can develop empathy and understanding for us, and bridge that communication gap. I feel like most of the issues between young people and cops are based on misunderstandings and lack of communication."

Storycatchers and the CPD are currently collaborating to engage more recruits and officers in additional conversations and experiential workshops to improve safety for all.

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About Storycatchers Theatre
Storycatchers Theatre is a non-profit that works with youth inside incarceration facilities, detention centers, and post-release programs to write true personal stories in order to overcome traumatic experiences and to empower their individual growth. Often influenced by these traumatic life events, youth turn their narratives into powerful musical theatre performances for the community, facilitating discussions that create change in themselves and their audience. Storycatchers Theatre also offers job-readiness and transitional employment to post-release participants.

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Andrew Nuno
Finn Partners for Storycatchers Theatre
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