Keenan Lewis challenges others to make difference in his hometown of New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- The outcry, the passion, the anger, the sadness and the frustration over gun violence in New Orleans has been as loud as ever in the wake of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith's shooting death late Saturday night.

But nothing has changed for Saints cornerback and New Orleans West Bank native Keenan Lewis, who has been spreading that same message for years.

Lewis told ESPN.com that his desire to help his hometown community was one of the reasons why he came back to New Orleans as a free agent in 2013. And it has been a mission of his charitable foundation to show youth they can take a different path.

Lewis said he intends to hold a pop-up camp at a local park this weekend, even if he has to just pull kids off the street. He later challenged others to join him on Instagram.

"It's not my message because of what happened this weekend," said Lewis, whose brother-in-law was shot and killed in New Orleans in December, along with his brother-in-law's pregnant girlfriend.

"You're taking these people's lives. Nobody wins from that. For example, the Will Smith situation. Nobody won. Every week, I'm losing a close friend or family or hearing about someone being gunned down. Man, we need these people to make our community better."

Lewis' passion has been as evident on Instagram as it was during his phone conversation:

"When people ask me where I am from, I am always proud to say New Orleans that 504. But it's sad when tourist starting to believe the area code is 911," Lewis wrote. "Listen to the stories from some of your parents, grandparents and older relatives, when they was coming up. They enjoy those times because their hearts was feel with love and it was okay to love one another. Not to make this a race thing because that is not my message but for my African American brothers we have to understand the importance of family. Children need their fathers and mothers. Please let stop subtracting these numbers and adding on to the small amount we have...."

Lewis' pleas have been echoed in recent days by people like Saints coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, general manager Mickey Loomis and New Orleans native Tyrann Mathieu, who plays for the Arizona Cardinals, among many others.

Lewis is glad to hear it but also said the mission will require more than just speeches and interviews. He challenged everyone who can make a difference to get into the community, meet the youth one-on-one and share their personal stories about how they found a successful path in life.

"Tell the youth it's OK to be cool. It's OK to be popular. It's OK to be smart. You don't have to be a bully and earn respect with violence. It's not worth it," said Lewis, who described himself as being from a low-income area or the "ghetto" and said he tries to tell others about his path. "All the big-time guys, it don't have to be black athletes. Peyton Manning, everyone from Louisiana, actors. Let's show ‘em the ropes. Tell ‘em your story, how you got to where you are. That's my challenge. Let's all do something.

"We can't just count on the so-called leaders. I feel like we can take over. ... You, too, they can even be the next Mike Triplett. I grew up with people who really didn't believe they could do it. But we can show ‘em y'all can do it, too. It makes a difference when you can really be hands-on and tell your story.

"Let's make a chain. Let's all get together and link up. No one is more powerful than the others. I don't know what it's gonna take. My belief is we can have faith, let's put them in church, maybe that'll do it.

"I still believe the city, the mayor, they do care. But people gotta get along. All of us know each other, too, in this community, that's the crazy part."

The attorney for Smith's alleged shooter suggested Monday that another gun may have been on the scene and that his client, Cardell Hayes, felt threatened. The attorney did not specify whether he believed Smith was in possession of a gun.

But when Lewis was asked about pro athletes and other successful people who carry guns, as well, he said his message goes for them, too.

"I think that goes for anyone. Same message for athletes or anybody. A gun don't prove anything," Lewis said. "A gun don't make you powerful. That's what it's coming down to. That's what they think. We need to find a way to put all that aside. No matter what the race is. That's my message. And I'm gonna stop saying youth, too. That's my message, period. ... We can do it if we put our mind to it.

"I believe nobody should have no guns. The most powerful thing you can have is the Bible. That doesn't prove anything. What did you prove? You're not a hero. You're taking lives away from these people. They need them. Children with no father, what's that gonna get them?"