AUBURN GRESHAM — Historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas relaunched his popular tours of South Side communities last month. Now, he’s hoping to get a bus to organize the trips and introduce more people to neighborhood history.
Thomas has for months guided Chicagoans through Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Pullman and more as part of his program, renting buses and paying for the drivers and transportation costs. Buying his own bus will cut down on trip-to-trip expenses, which means he can offer more free tours, drop the $45 ticket price for community members who can’t afford it and give free neighborhood tours to students who might not know the magic in their community, he said.
“I’ve been going to a lot of schools lately, and when I speak to young people, they’re always surprised about the history that is taking place in their neighborhood,” Thomas said. “I think if you know the history of a space, you respect and treat it better.”
The fundraiser is 5-9 p.m. Thursday at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place. Chicago actor Jason Weaver will be a guest host. Guests can RSVP by email for the event or donate by contacting email@example.com.
“Chicago Legend,” a short documentary about Thomas’ life as a ComEd employee by day and a TikTok star by night, will premiere at the fundraiser.
Created in collaboration with ComEd and marketing agency Zpryme, Thomas said filmmakers followed him for about a week to document his time as a father, employee and South Side tour guide. That wasn’t the initial plan, Thomas said.
“The plan was to film me interacting at home and then spend the majority of the time following what I do as an area operator,” Thomas said. “But I got along with the director and videographer, and we just ended up spending a bunch of days with each other. They said, ‘Man, we need to tell your whole full story as best we can in the time allotted.’”
Thomas said he had a habit of discussing “Chicago legends” with the filmmakers. And when he hosts his tours, one of the main goals is to point out prominent Chicagoans who once walked the streets.
When it came time to pick a title for the documentary, Thomas’ frequent talking point made for an obvious choice.
“On the very last day when we were leaving each other’s company, I took them to Harold’s, and we had dinner at the house,” Thomas said. “They said, ‘You spend a lot of time talking about Chicago legends, but I don’t think you’ve figured it out that you’re becoming one.’ And they said that’s why they picked it.”
Thomas said he hopes viewers will understand why owning a bus for tours in the community is needed.
“If you haven’t been on one of my tours, it’s hard for you to feel it,” Thomas said. “I thought the documentary would be a great way to get the philanthropic community together and let them see why this service is needed.”
Mostly, Thomas said he wants to boost tourism in his communities.
A “big ol’ tour bus” with Thomas’ face on the side reading “Everything dope about America comes from Chicago” might be a good place to start, he said.
“Every time we try to showcase the city, we never include the South and West sides,” Thomas said. “I think this bus is the first step in making those sides of the city a major player as it relates to tourism. I think it’s going to be very powerful for people to see every weekend in their neighborhoods.”
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