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Shermann 'Dilla' Thomas
Photograph: Courtesy Shermann Thomas

Help one of Chicago’s best TikTokers bring tours to city neighborhoods

Chicago historian Shermann "Dilla" Thomas is fundraising to buy a bus for community neighborhood tours.

Lindsay Eanet
Written by
Lindsay Eanet
One of Chicago's best civic history classes happens regularly—and for free—on TikTok. And nearly 86,000 people are tuning in to the app for brief, informative lessons from local historian, electrical worker, dad and rising social media star Shermann "Dilla" Thomas, aka 6figga_dilla.
What began as a TikTok account where the Auburn Gresham native would share local history with his daughter has become an ever-growing, engaging library of videos on the histories of Chicago's neighborhoods, sports teams, influential figures and more, all with his (very correct) philosophy, "Everything dope about America comes from Chicago." Now, he's sharing his knowledge through in-person neighborhood bus tours under the name Chicago Mahogany Tours.
"It dawned on me that people are really interested in Chicago history," Thomas says. "They're walking past history every day." 

The tours, which highlight the historic and cultural contributions of neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, provide not just valuable information for out-of-towners, but also a space for residents of those neighborhoods to learn about and take pride in their communities. “Even if you come in from O'Hare or Midway and look at the tour brochures, there's nothing on the South Side or West Side to visit,” Thomas says. “If you're from the West Side or the South Side, you're going to feel the same way about that place.”

Thomas says his tours aren't "reinventing the wheel," but he wants to highlight what's already there. Mahogany's Pullman/Roseland Tour explores the neighborhood that President Barack Obama declared a National Monument in 2015, and the adjacent Roseland neighborhood, which was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Bronzeville Tour takes guests to significant historic and cultural sites like the Bronzeville YMCA (the birthplace of Black History Month); Pilgrim Baptist Church, which is considered the birthplace of gospel music; and sites associated with movers and shakers like Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Daniel Hale Williams, the first person to perform open-heart surgery.
With the Bridgeport and Stockyards Tour, he tries to encourage tour-goers to understand the scope of the stockyards that powered Chicago's economy for more than a century. "We famously hear Carl Sandburg refer to Chicago as the 'Hog Butcher for the World,' but most people today can't quantify what that really means," he says. "We take people over the 39th Street overpass, so they can see how massive the stockyards were."
Thomas says his tours are immersive, and he tries to highlight our differences as a city, but also how those differences came to be, as well as the ways Chicago residents across the city share common ground. He hopes people who take the tours come away from them with a sense of civic pride.
"If you know the history of places, you respect them more," he says.
The next steps for the tour operation? Buying a bus. Currently, Thomas leases the buses for his tours from a local company. By purchasing a bus, he hopes to make tour prices more affordable for people in local communities, partner with more schools and nonprofits, and offer free tours for school kids
To help raise the money to purchase the bus, a fundraiser will be held at the DuSable Museum of African-American History this Thursday, March 31, from 5pm–9pm. The event will feature the world premiere of Chicago Legend, a mini documentary about Thomas created by Austin-based research and media company Zpryme. The company had initially come to Chicago to film local electrical lineworkers, but the project evolved into a film focusing on Thomas's story. 
The fundraiser will also feature special guest Jason Weaver, best known for his work on The Chi and Smart Guy. Those interested in attending can RSVP to Capacity is limited for the in-person component, but you can also catch a live-stream of the event on Thomas's Instagram page
If you can't make it to the event at the DuSable Museum or tune in for the live stream, there are still plenty of ways to support Thomas's work. Chicago Mahogany Tours has set up a PayPal link to accept donations; those interested in larger tax-deductible contributions ($250 or above) can do so through the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation.

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