Not 13-year-old Malik Bryant.
Instead, the boy, who calls Chicago’s high-poverty, high-crime Englewood neighborhood home, asked Santa for just one Christmas gift this year. In a letter collected through nonprofit group Direct Effect Charities’ annual Letters to Santa program, he asked for “safety. I just wanna be safe.”
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, which first reported Malik’s story on Monday, the boy’s letter struck a chord with Direct Effect CEO Michelle DiGiacomo, who reached out to her congressman, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, to bring the letter to his attention.
Though the letter didn’t make it to the North Pole, it did make it to the White House. NBC Chicago reports Quigley instructed his staff to contact President Barack Obama and make sure he saw the letter.
See it he did. On Sunday, Malik opened his letter from the president.
“Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow,” Obama wrote. “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.”
Malik told NBC’s “Today” he was surprised the president wrote to him.
“I didn’t expect my letter to go to the White House, but I think it sent a message to everybody that it’s not safe out here in Chicago,” Malik said. “It’s dangerous.”
The letter also caught the eye of Spencer Tweedy, the son of Wilco musician Jeff Tweedy, after he saw it in Direct Effect’s December newsletter. A photo of the letter posted by Spencer went viral on Twitter and Tumblr.
Founded in 2001, Direct Effect responds to about 9,000 Santa letters written by low-income Chicago Public Schools students each year.