Chicago TikTok historian eyes home base for neighborhood tour company with city grant

Shermann “Dilla” Thomas is one of 61 recipients to receive grants ranging from $12,000 to $5 million “to support neighborhood vitality,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced.

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Shermann “Dilla” Thomas stands in May 2021 outside of artist and co-founder of the DuSable Museum Margaret Burroughs’ old house at 3806 S. Michigan Ave. Thomas’ tour company, Chicago Mahogany Tours, will receive $30,000 from a city grant to establish a home base for his company.

Shermann “Dilla” Thomas stands in May 2021 outside of artist and co-founder of the DuSable Museum Margaret Burroughs’ old house at 3806 S. Michigan Ave. Thomas’ tour company, Chicago Mahogany Tours, will receive $30,000 from a city grant to establish a home base for his company.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo

Auburn Gresham native and Chicago historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas has been producing bite-sized history lessons for audiences on TikTok, where he has garnered over one million likes and nearly 100,000 followers.

He’s also expanded his classroom from social media to chartered bus tours around South and West Side neighborhoods to share the history and beauty in communities he loves.

A grant announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday will give Thomas a home base for his Chicago Mahogany Tours. The funding from the city’s $40 million commitment in Community Development Grants is part of the Chicago Recovery Plan.

Mahogany Tours is one of 61 groups that will receive money as part of the announcement. The grant money ranges from $12,000 to $5 million “to support neighborhood vitality, economic development, community wealth-building, public health, and local planning goals,” the mayor said Wednesday in a news release.

“Two of my highest priorities as Mayor are funneling resources into communities that have gone far too long without and removing barriers for residents who have too often been shut out from opportunities to obtain upward mobility,” said Lightfoot. “Through the Community Development Grant program, we are able to make good on both of these commitments while simultaneously driving our city’s equitable economic growth.

Thomas said he was excited to come from the “best neighborhood in the city,” and to be changing negative narratives about certain spaces through the grant funding. Based in Auburn Gresham, the tour company will receive $30,000.

During his bus tours, Thomas offers his extensive knowledge of the city, its design/architecture and neighborhoods including Bronzeville, Bridgeport and North Lawndale. His motto? “Everything dope about America comes from Chicago.”

“What we’re hoping to do is do our part in changing spaces,” Thomas said. “You change spaces — you make them more inclusive for everyone around. You also show the vitality of those spaces.”

“So what we’re going to do is get a storefront and then we’re going to show that there’s tourism to be seen in all of our neighborhoods, not just downtown,” Thomas said to a thunderous applause. “We’re gonna take kids from every single Chicago neighborhood and we’re going to show them why every single thing dope about this country comes from Chicago.”

This is the third and final round of Community Development Grants for 2022, and the 61 finalists were picked from more than 600 applicants. Twenty-six of the businesses and organizations selected are on the South and West Sides of the city.

Other finalists include Bennett Place, a South Shore apartment complex aiming to create an eatery plus a ghost kitchen and food incubator.

Other projects focus on housing, entertainment, youth services, health and wellness, retail and cannabis production.

Construction for the grant projects are anticipated to wrap up in the next 18 to 24 months.

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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