A father whose devotion to music prevented his involvement in gun violence in his childhood is offering kids the same shot at success: Turn in your guns for a free trumpet.
Shamarr Allen of New Orleans, La., has been playing the trumpet in the French Quarter since he was a teen, a passion his parents nurtured from the age of 7. His dedication paid off — not only has Allen performed twice at the White House for former President Obama, but he also tours with his band The Underdawgs and mentors children with musical aspirations.
Moved by the July shooting death of a 9-year-old boy in New Orleans, Allen, whose son is the same age, took to Instagram. “To all the youth in New Orleans,” he wrote, “bring me a gun and I’ll give you a trumpet, no questions asked. I’m doing this until I run out of trumpets.”
Growing up in the city’s Lower 9th Ward, Allen was affected by gun violence in his community, but playing the trumpet was an escape — it consumed his time and energy and became a tool for survival. “My parents were always on me to practice and I played in the street for quarters,” he tells Yahoo Life. “The guys who played in bands would teach me songs on their breaks.”
Knowing that art can improve children's lives, Allen wanted better for his city. “School is closed and kids are getting into trouble,” he says. “Many don’t get to leave their neighborhood and don’t realize there is more to life. If I can show them a different way, it opens minds.”
However, as a father of two, Allen understood that asking kids to forfeit their weapons “no questions asked,” required trust. “The first response [to my Instagram post] was, ‘If I give you a gun, will I really get a trumpet?’” he tells Yahoo Life. Nor could Allen alone guarantee there wouldn’t be consequences. So he contacted the mayor’s office, which referred him to the New Orleans Police Department.
Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson tells Yahoo Life that Allen impressed him. “He was dismayed over the death of this 9-year-old boy and felt the need to do something.” Ferguson initially recommended a partnership with a gun buy-back program but Allen worried that law enforcement would intimate the children. So the department, knowing of Allen’s trusted reputation, allowed him to retrieve the guns himself.
Though “The Trumpet is My Weapon Gun Exchange Program,” Allen meets children at different locations throughout New Orleans and after the guns are placed in his car, he allows them to choose a trumpet from his trunk. “It’s risky as hell but I am not coming with ill intentions, so the children’s response to me is different,” he tells Yahoo Life. Allen delivers the weapons to the police department’s armory division, which runs background checks on the guns, either destroying or preserving them as evidence.
Ferguson says the department is respecting Allen’s “no questions asked” policy for children because “We have to be creative about getting guns off the street.”
Since July 14, Allen has collected four guns from children (and is negotiating the return of two more) and met with two thankful parents. He’s raised more than $26,000 through GoFundMe to purchase trumpets at $250 each and sells campaign T-shirts through his website TrueOrleans. Those profits will cover program costs, including stands and sheet music.
The trumpet is considered the “coolest” hobby in his city, also the birthplace of trumpet legend Louis Armstrong, but Allen wants to give away different instruments and is partnering with musicians for free virtual lessons amid the pandemic. “But if kids don’t have a gun and still want to play,” he says, “I’ll find them something.”
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