Malik Bryant, a 13-year-old from one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, Englewood, didn’t wish for an iPhone or a shiny new video game system from Santa. His only plea to Santa Claus was to be safe for the holidays. “All I ask for is for safety I just wanna be safe,” the seventh-grader wrote to St. Nick through a program overseen by a local charity, WLS-TV, Chicago, reported

The head of the charity thought the letter was so stirring, she passed it on to the White House, a move that resulted in an invitation to Malik to be a special guest at the State of the Union address Tuesday. “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, the charity that ran the Letters to Santa program at Chicago schools. “All this kid was asking for was safety. I was floored.”


The letter also struck a chord with President Barack Obama, who responded to Malik’s letter Dec. 22. “Each day I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover and grow,” the president, who is also a Chicagoan, 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. And I will be rooting for you."

Malik, in a video interview with the Sun-Times, said he was shocked to hear back from Obama. “I’m surprised he wrote it to me. 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,” he said. “I barely can go outside anymore, like visit my family. I can’t go outside to ride my bike, I can’t go outside to play ball and I’ve seen a dude dead.”

Malik is one of 22 special guests invited to sit with the first lady at the State of the Union address.