AUBURN GRESHAM — Chicago’s favorite urban historian has a cool new ride to cruise around town with, and his first goal is to offer more tours exploring the city’s history.
After months of fundraising and community support, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas secured the funds to buy a tour bus. The TikTok star, who is known as 6figga_dilla, can now bring his history lessons from your phone to the real world with Chicago Mahogany Tours at an affordable price, he said.
Donations from corporate sponsors, sports teams, celebrities like Chance the Rapper and actor Thomas Lennon and “everyday Chicagoans” helped Thomas gather a down payment for the $300,000 bus, he said. He will continue to pay to own the bus, he said.
To offer tours across the South Side, Thomas would pay bus companies up to $1,300 per tour to rent a bus, he said. Now that he has his bus, he can lower the costs for neighborhood tours, offer more free tours to students and take his history lessons across the city, one neighborhood at a time.
“It’s the stories that I tell that people are donating to,” Thomas said. “I’m just a vessel. It’s the stories that matter.”
The “modern” all-white bus is decked out with monitors and massive windows, Thomas said.
Soon, the monitors will play Thomas’ TikToks, so when the bus pulls up to a historic site, neighbors can watch archival footage while they gaze out their windows at living history, Thomas said.
The bus design will include Thomas’ face with the Chicago Mahogany logo, Thomas said. “Everything dope about America comes from Chicago,” a slogan Thomas coined, will be plastered across the side of the bus, he said.
Inside the bus, Thomas hopes to commission an artist to paint a mural honoring “all sides of the city,” he said.
“When people get on the bus and see it, we want it to emit Chicago pride,” Thomas said. “I want us to feel better about ourselves.”
Thomas will host another fundraiser in December at 875 North Michigan — formerly known as the John Hancock Center — to thank donors and raise enough money to sponsor neighborhood tours for 50 schools, he said.
In the meantime, Thomas is staying busy working on the details of his untitled Netflix show and applying for grants for more free tours, he said. Chicago Mahogany Tours recently gained certification as a nonprofit organization.
Thomas also hopes to continue Englewood tours with artist Tonika Johnson, he said.
One day soon, Thomas hopes to open a “micro museum” at the former site of Paul Cuffee Math Science Academy in Auburn Gresham, he said. Attendees will be able to wear Oculus VR headsets and learn more about the city “in the metaverse,” he said.
Thomas wants to name it the G.R.A.C.E. Museum of South Side History after Gresham, Roseland, Auburn, Chatham, and Englewood, he said.
“I recognize that I have a particular delivery style that people enjoy, but I’m only the person delivering the message,” Thomas said. “Chicago history is what’s united us.”
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