When Chicago’s Malik Bryant wrote to Santa this year, he didn’t ask for a bike or a toy, he asked for something far more intangible and precious—he asked for safety.
The letter didn’t make it to the North Pole, but another icon wrote back: President Barack Obama.
“I’m rooting for you,” Obama wrote to the boy from his own hometown. Bryant, 13, lives in the South Side of Chicago, in the high-crime neighborhood of Englewood with his mother and two sister; he regularly sees and hears gang violence and gun fire.
“Dear Santa: I would like to ask you sum[thing] but first Imma tell you about me. Im a black African American … My favorite subject is math. I have 2 siblings living with me and Im the only boy on my Moms side of my family. But anyway all I ask for is for safety. I just wanna be safe,” the boy wrote according to the Chicago Sun Times. The letter was given to DirectEffect, one of the many groups that provide gifts to young people who write to Santa every Christmas.
“When I pulled this one letter from a seventh-grade class at an Englewood elementary school, I couldn’t stop reading it,” Michelle DiGiacomo, CEO of DirectEffect, told the Sun Times. “All this kid was asking for was safety. I was floored.”
She passed the letter onto Chicago Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley, who passed it on to the White House.
“I want to offer you a few words of encouragement,” the president wrote back to the boy in the letter dated Dec. 22nd. “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.”
Donors sought to find a gift that might appeal to the boy, but the child’s mother said it had to be something Malik could do inside.
“Malik doesn’t really go outside. He has to hear from me all the time telling him he can’t stay out too long because it’s too dangerous,” the boy’s mother 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.”
Donors eventually settled on a new computer and Wii game for Malik, but on Saturday evening, another gift arrived by certified mail.
“I’m like OMG! It’s a letter from Obama, from the president,” Malik said Sunday after opening the letter.
“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 told the paper.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” his mother 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.”