WASHINGTON — It’s been a once-in-lifetime whirlwind for Malik Bryant, the 13-year old from Englewood who was in first lady Michelle Obama’s box for the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
He’s been at the White House, the Capitol, the Department of Education and on his first airplane ride, taking off Monday from Midway with his mother.
Malik has been enjoying a level of fame few ever reach, all because of a letter he wrote with a Christmas wish to live in a safe neighborhood that caught the attention of President Barack Obama and the White House.
What I hope is that this spotlight translates into something concrete for Malik and family — a new home on the North Side, near where his mother works.
No matter the intentions of the president — even one with a home on the South Side of Chicago and a first lady from the South Side — making neighborhoods safe is very difficult.
The parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton sat next to Michelle Obama at the State of the Union in 2013. At age 15, Hadiya was shot in a park about a mile from the Obamas’ Kenwood home.
Still, that horrible murder did not spur Congress to approve any changes in gun laws.
So looking at the big picture — change is very hard. Getting one family moved in Chicago should be doable if some generous people step up.
I talked to Malik a few hours before Obama’s address. He phoned me from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a stroll from the White House as part of a media blitz arranged by the White House.
“I think I’m going to be listening for Obama to, you know, speak out on the safety issue around my neighborhood and around places where there is really too much killing,” he said.
In a wide-ranging speech, Obama never directly addressed Malik or Englewood.
Malik’s buddies didn’t believe him at first that the White House was flying him out for the State of the Union.
“None of us ever got the chance to like go to Washington and meet the president, so it was hard to believe, like if one of my friends had told me I wouldn’t have believed it either,” said the seventh-grader who would like to be a pro baskeball player.
Malik’s plea for safety made its way to the White House with a push from Michelle DiGiacomo, who founded Direct Effect Charities a Chicago nonprofit that has an annual letters to Santa program.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told me, “The recommendations for the Box are reviewed by the President and First Lady’s senior staff. Malik’s letter to Santa asking to be safe touched us all, and we unanimously recommended his inclusion in the Box.
“Making Malik’s wish a reality is President Obama’s top priority for all Americans. I certainly am looking forward to meeting both Malik and his mother,” she said in an email.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who represents Englewood, told me in an email, “This is an opportunity that will stay with Malik for years to come. The impact of such a visit will surely change his life’s trajectory toward a bright future.
“Malik deserves to grow up in a safe environment, as does every child. I hope that what he learns today will inspire him to share with his community and others,” Rush said.
If you want to help, here’s how: You can contact DiGiacomo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 4044 N. Lincoln Ave., #400, Chicago, 60618.