This Musician Asks Kids to Trade Their Guns in for Trumpets to Help Combat Violence in New Orleans

Alarmed by a tragic shooting in his hometown, a New Orleans musician gives hope to kids—for a song.

Shamarr Allen playing the trumpetArmon Dauphin/Courtesy Shamarr Allen
“What saved me and redirected my path was a trumpet,” says Allen.

Shamarr Allen was dozing at home one evening last July when he was startled awake by a TV news item. There had been a shooting among a group of children in the 7th Ward of New Orleans, only a few miles from Allen’s home, and a nine-year-old boy named Devante Bryant had been killed. Allen was horrified and heartbroken. He thought of his own nine-year-old son.

Originally from the city’s rough Lower 9th Ward, Allen is one of the most celebrated jazz trumpeters in a city that’s teeming with them. His band, Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, has released three albums, and he is a fixture on local television and as a street performer. After seeing the tragic news that morning, it didn’t take long for Allen to hit on a possible antidote. He had a few spare trumpets lying around. Maybe he could offer them to kids in exchange for their guns.

“What saved me and redirected my path was a trumpet, the music and culture of the city that it connected me with,” Allen says. “It showed me that success, connections, and differences can be managed through self-expression.”

Allen named the program My Trumpet Is My Weapon—after all, it was something of a personal mantra. He met with the New Orleans mayor to figure out how to make children feel safe coming forward with their guns, and the chief of police agreed to dismantle everything Allen collected, no questions asked.

“Just to see that they actually want to give up their guns, that’s the cool part about it,” says Allen, who has collected seven guns so far, a small but symbolically important start.

text: “I come from where you come from, and I can show you the way out.”

But he doesn’t stop with the swap of gun for instrument. After the exchanges, Allen connects the children with local musicians who give them free virtual trumpet lessons. He also started a GoFundMe page to purchase more instruments to give away. So far, he has collected over $45,000. More importantly, he has fostered hope for his city and young people looking for a better life.

“I just say, ‘Look, I come from where you come from, and I can show you the way that got me out,’ ” says Allen. “‘And music may not be the way for you, but it will at least open your mind to see what’s out there.’ ” Next, learn how two high school boys stepped up when they saw their classmate wearing the same clothes every day.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest