Teen's letter should renew calls for action on violence

SHARE Teen's letter should renew calls for action on violence

Malik Bryant, a 13-year-old Englewood boy made only one wish in a letter to Santa last year: “All I ask for is for safety, I just wanna be safe,” he wrote. In response, the White House sent a letter from President Barack Obama that said, “Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President.” The boy also sat near the first lady during the State of the Union address. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Let’s not get it twisted.

It is indeed amazing that the President of the United States not only responded to a poignant letter 13-year-old Malik Bryant wrote to a Christmas charity, but invited the youth to watch the State of the Union address in the first lady’s box on Tuesday.

The letter and presidential gesture put Englewood youth in the news for something good.

That’s always a good thing.

In fact, the attention Malik received from the White House gave me hope that despite Chicago’s messed-up bids, the Obama Presidential Library might actually end up on the South Side.

In her column that appeared on Wednesday, Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet said she hopes the “spotlight” on Malik translates into “a new home on the North Side, near where his mother works.”

Sweet said: “Getting one family moved in Chicago should be doable if generous people step up.”

She’s right.

I have no doubt that Malik’s dilemma will touch hearts.

Over the years, Chicago Sun-Times readers have proven to be incredibly generous when it comes to helping those who are less fortunate.

Still, when it comes to safety, we need to do something more to help a people — not just a person.

Malik may be the young man in the limelight, but he represents every young black male struggling to make it out of an unsafe neighborhood.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of Maliks living in communities that are plagued by gangs, illegal guns and narcotics.

We can’t move them all to the North Side.

I’m ecstatic that Malik’s plea resulted in his taking his first flight, and got him access to the nation’s first African-American president.

But I’m also mindful that many of his peers will be lucky if they get off the block, let alone out of the city.

Unfortunately, elected officials — from the White House to City Hall — have been unable to come up with policies or strategies that dramatically increase the survival odds for a lot more of the young men living in unstable neighborhoods.

To his credit, in 2014, the president launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” an effort aimed at “young men of color,” to address the conditions that often lead to violence.

The bottom line is this: These kids are worried about surviving outside of their homes — today.

Black youth are six times more likely to be murdered than other youth, according to recent studies.

“All I ask for is safety. I just wanna be safe,” Malik wrote in his “Dear Santa” letter.

Obama’s reply pointed out that, as president, Malik’s security is a “priority.”

But the reality is less hopeful.

After all, it is easier for the president to send troops to a foreign country to protect a foreign people than it is for him to protect American citizens stuck in urban war zones.

Today, a lot of young people think their only way out is a recording contract.

Malik didn’t ask for a trip to Washington or for a tour of the White House, but making those things happen was easy.

Unfortunately for our youth, making unsafe neighborhoods safer requires a lot more than giving one person a good experience. It requires a commitment that includes financial resources as well as spiritual and political will.

“I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: Your life matters, and we are committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids,” Obama said during his State of the Union address.

The letter Malik wrote was, as Obama said, about every child.

We can’t rescue children growing up in the midst of violence one by one. We need to commit to them all.

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