Avisiting artist is challenging Madison residents to distill their hopes for Madison’s Black community into four-word notes.

Marlon F. Hall, who is an artist-in-residence at UW-Madison, said the idea behind the Dear Black Future project is to collect as many letters as possible, all written with just four words, to detail aspirations for the Black community.

The idea came to Hall when he was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which claimed the lives of hundreds of Black residents and destroyed over 1,000 homes and local businesses. This attack was led by a white mob against Greenwood, a prosperous Black neighborhood in the city of Tulsa that was commonly known as Black Wall Street.

Hall collected more than 700 Dear Black Future letters in less than a month by setting up drop-off locations at a popular local park called the Gathering Place, a coffee shop and a restaurant. Then, at the end of the month, Hall read all of the letters at the Gathering Place over a megaphone. It took him about four hours to read every letter.

Hall, 51, who lived and worked in Tulsa for four years, first moved to the city to serve as an artist-in-residence for the Greenwood Art Project, an initiative of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The project aimed to create art that shed light on Greenwood’s history.

Hall was relatively unfamiliar with the city’s history. He recalled that his time there felt emotionally heavy, as he had to grapple with the city’s painful past.

“I had been living and working here and to be quite honest, it was kind of traumatic,” he said. “I would, some days, wake up in a cold sweat from dreams where my mattress was in a graveyard.”

Those feelings prompted the Dear Black Future project.

“I decided that I would have to, in one way or another, re-narrate the city from a graveyard to a garden,” Hall recalled. “I like to think that my work is a resource of re-narrating pain into possibility.”