Englewood family talks about State of Union invite: ‘It’s been crazy’

SHARE Englewood family talks about State of Union invite: ‘It’s been crazy’

Malik Bryant, a 13-year-old Englewood boy whose letter to Santa was answered by President Barack Obama, flew out to Washington, D.C., with his mother on Monday to be a guest of first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address Tuesday night. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Malik Bryant’s mother spent all day Saturday shopping — she had to visit three stores to find just the right State of the Union suit.

But by the time she met up with a reporter, she was happy and glowing.

Her only son, the 13-year-old Englewood boy who became known to the world after the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story on him that went viral, was headed to the White House and into history.

His story will be highlighted during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address being televised at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

How did her family end up here? That’s what his mother has asked herself many times since Dec. 28, when Malik’s poignant letter to Santa — asking only for safety — was answered by the president of the United States.

“It’s been crazy,” said the mother of three, who is uncomfortable with the media glare but happy for Malik.

On Jan. 13, the White House reached out to DirectEffect Charities, the Chicago nonprofit that got Malik’s letter to the White House via U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., asking for help in contacting Malik’s family.

“The person on the other end said he was from the White House, and I said, ‘Did you just say the White House?’ He told me he was interested in reaching out to the family,” Michelle DiGiacomo recounts.

“I was shocked and thrilled to say the least. In 13 years of doing Letters to Santa, I’ve never had a letter be so important or go so viral, and never did I imagine the White House would be reaching out to one of my Santa letter kids. I gave him his mom’s contact info, then called her,” DiGiacomo said.

“The White House called,” said Malik’s mom. “She said they want the mother to escort.”

She describes her son as a happy-go-lucky kid who is “well-rounded,” loves basketball — and math too. The White House said the trip was to be just the two of them, although Malik’s two sisters, ages 9 and 18, would have loved to join them.

Their journey started in early December, when Malik was among 8,500 Chicago Public Schools students who wrote to DirectEffect’s Letters to Santa program. His and other letters from students at 12 schools this year were distributed to big-hearted folks across the city and suburbs who annually fulfill students’ wishes.

When DiGiacomo pulled the letter from a seventh-grade class at an Englewood elementary school, she was floored. “All I ask for is for safety. I just wanna be safe,” Malik had written.

DiGiacomo decided the president needed to see the poignant letter from a kid in this impoverished, high-crime neighborhood in the president’s hometown. So she reached out to her congressman, who also was moved and forwarded the letter to the White House.

Two days after Christmas, Malik received Obama’s letter, saying, “Please know your security is a priority for me … and I will be rooting for you.”

The Sun-Times story was picked up by news entities around the country and around the world — as far away as the Netherlands, Paris and Vietnam. DiGiacomo has them logged here on a Facebook page.

Malik’s been a bit of a celebrity at school, and just last Monday, DirectEffect arranged for him and his family to attend the Chicago Bulls game against the Orlando Magic. The Bulls gave Malik VIP treatment. He got to meet some of the players and left armed with team swag.

On Saturday, as DiGiacomo took his mother shopping to purchase for her a black, two-piece skirt suit, Malik also was shopping with his father, who bought a blue, two-piece suit for him.

The next day, Malik sat down for an interview with MSNBC arranged by the White House.

Malik and his mom flew to Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon. The trip was arranged and paid for by the White House. They return on Wednesday.

And as they prepared for their trip, they weren’t sure if they were more nervous about meeting the president; about Malik joining the first lady in her private box (his mother will sit in a different section); or about the airplane flight. Neither has ever flown before.

Asked Saturday morning if he was excited, Malik offered an enthusiastic “Yesssssss!”

Asked if he was looking forward to meeting the president, he exclaimed, “Yesssssss!”

And told he was about to be famous, the teen laughed, saying, “Not yet.”

“I’m excited,” Malik told the Sun-Times. And asked what he would like to share with the president, Malik said: “We need more policemen. I saw on the news where the mayor’s son had been mugged outside his house, and if the mayor’s son isn’t safe, I’m not safe.”

“I know that this has been an overwhelming experience for Malik and his mother,” DiGiacomo said. “I truly hope that they are blessed by this experience in the best possible way to help them through the difficult circumstances in their life. Mostly, I hope Malik will be helped to find a safer place to call home as a result.”

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