A black teen's letter to Santa Claus got the response he least expected. In the letter, 13-year-old Malik Bryant asked Santa for the one thing money can't buy: "All I ask for is for safety. I just wanna be safe," he wrote.
Malik didn't expect to receive an answer -- much less a reply from the President of the United States.
“I’m like OMG! It’s a letter from Obama, from the president,” 13-year-old Malik Bryant said Sunday, as he proudly held up the signed letter for a reporter.
According to a report in the Chicago Sun Times, Malik was one of 8,500 children who wrote letters to Santa Claus as part of the annual Christmas wish program run by a Chicago nonprofit, DirectEffect Charities.
"When I pulled this one letter from a seventh-grade class at an Englewood elementary school, I couldn’t stop reading it,” said Michelle DiGiacomo, CEO of DirectEffect. “All this kid was asking for was safety. I was floored.”
DiGiacomo said she showed the letter to one of Malik's teachers. “I didn’t know what to do with it. Malik’s teacher suggested we get him winter wear and some school supplies. So I sent off his letter to one of our Santas," she said.
But DiGiacomo wanted to do more. "I couldn’t stop thinking about it."
She reached out to her congressman, U.S. Rep. Michael Quigley. Quigley, who forwarded Malik's letter to the White House, where it landed on President Obama's desk in the Oval office.
DiGiacomo also reached out to Malik's mother to see if he wanted anything special for Christmas.
Malik’s mom said it had to be something Malik could entertain himself with indoors.
Malik, his mother and 2 sisters live on Chicago's gang-infested South Side, where children routinely walk past dead bodies on their way to school.
“Malik doesn’t really go outside," she explained to a reporter. "He has to hear from me all the time telling him he can’t stay out too long because it’s too dangerous,” his 35-year-old mother, who asked not to be identified, told the Sun-Times.
“Sometimes he wants to go over to my sister’s house nearby, to hang out with his cousins, but he can’t because he has to cross gang lines and walk past all these gang members on some of those blocks. And all he ever hears on the news about our neighborhood is shootings, gangs and violence. Malik knows he’s not safe,” she said.
Through DiGiacomo's outreach efforts, Malik received a new computer and Wii game for Christmas. But there was one more surprise in Santa's sack.
On Saturday evening a certified letter arrived from the White House. It was a signed letter from the president.
“I want to offer you a few words of encouragement,” Mr. Obama wrote Malik.
“Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I’m confident you can achieve anything you imagine . . . and I will be rooting for you.”
Malik's mom shared her son's excitement. “I’m just overwhelmed,” she said. “I still can’t believe it. How fantastic that out of all the problems he has in the world, the president took the time out to write a letter concerning about my son. I mean wow, what a Christmas.”
But then reality set in.
“I know the president’s letter isn’t going to like solve the safety reasons out here, and it’s still going to be dangerous, but I’m excited the president of the United States wrote to me, and I can’t wait to show it off," he said.