Determined to do his bit in avoiding another life lost to gun violence, Allen turned to a mantra he's held close for years: The Trumpet Is My Weapon.
9-year-old Devante Bryant was hanging out on the stoop of his New Orleans home on July 13, 2020, when he was gunned down by an unidentified shooter. As Devante's name joined the list of young lives lost in a spate of gun violence in July, musician Shamarr Allen thought of his own 9-year-old son and how easily it could've been his child in their place. Determined to do his bit in avoiding another tragedy of this sort, Allen turned to a mantra he's held close for years: The Trumpet Is My Weapon.
"To all the youth in New Orleans, bring me a gun and I'll give you a trumpet no questions asked. I'm doing this until I run out of trumpets," he announced on social media. While he hoped to get as many guns off the street as he could through the gun-for-trumpet exchange program, Allen knew it was important that the kids who came to him felt safe. "I had some trumpets lying around, and I know for me, the trumpet saved me," he told NPR. "I wanted to build a relationship and trust with the kids so that they wouldn't have to worry about getting in any trouble."
Allen reached out to New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell about his program and was connected to the chief of police, Shaun Ferguson. He informed the officials that for the program to work, they couldn't ask him any questions about who gave him the guns. "I said 'Listen, I have a different connection with these kids because I grew up like them, I know what they're going through,'" he revealed. "They aren't bad kids, they're just dealt into bad circumstances." The police agreed to take the guns from him without asking for details as they too knew how important it is to get the guns off the streets.
"People don't understand that these kids are trying and wanting to do other things," said Allen. "But there's just nothing for them to do." In the two weeks since launching the program, he collected six guns that have been turned over to the police for dismantling. His very first exchange was with a young girl who handed over a fully loaded gun in return for a trumpet. The exchange opened his mind, said Allen, adding that he "would never suspect that she would have [a gun]. And she was the most excited about getting [a trumpet]." He also gave her contact information of local musicians who've volunteered to give free music lessons to kids.
Having exchanged the four trumpets he had in his collection, Allen set up an online fundraiser to collect money for more as he knew there are more kids out there looking to get rid of the firearms in their possession without getting into trouble. "The Trumpet is My Weapon Gun Exchange Program is raising money to purchase trumpets which are about $250 each and music books to exchange for guns from New Orleans youth," he wrote. "As a child and adolescent who grew up in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, I have experienced and engaged in things that individuals at that age should not have to endure. What saved me and redirected my path was a trumpet, the music, and culture of the city that it connected me with."
"It showed me that success, connections, and differences can be managed through self-expression. When I needed money to take care of myself, I played my horn in the French Quarters for tips, and eventually, that grew into a full-on music career traveling the world. If I became upset I expressed that through song. The trumpet became a weapon that really saved my life, so I figured it may be able to have the same impact for another young person from New Orleans," Allen continued. "The goal of The Trumpet Is My Weapon Campaign and Gun Exchange Program is to put trumpets, and eventually other instruments, in the hands of our kids so that they can use it as their weapon and tool for success while taking guns off the street at the same time."
"With a communal effort, we can make a difference in the lives of others. Even one life saved is a step in the right direction," he concluded. The GoFundMe campaign has raised over $37k so far and some have even come forward to donate their own musical instruments. "The trumpet was the first thing that showed me, 'Oh I really don't have to be here. It's really a whole other world out here,'" said Allen. "So if I can create those little opportunities for one or two or three of them, they can actually bring that back to their neighborhood and do it all over again."