The Mayor of the Tenderloin

Meet San Francisco’s “grit, grime and crime” tour-guide

Deleano Seymour is a man of many names. He’s been a cabbie, a dealer, a poet, a tour-guide, a force for social change. Yet to the people of San Francisco’s most turbulent district, he’s known as the Mayor of the Tenderloin (TL).

For the last seven years, Del has led a walking tour of the TL. This isn’t your average sightseeing experience. Stops include: the first full-length screening of an adult film, a hidden sweat stop, the birthplace of the LGBT movement and much more. He promises to show the “grit, grime and crime” of the neighborhood — but never without showcasing positive opportunities for change.

We sat down with Del for a quick interview about his tours, social work and what he envisions for the future of the Tenderloin.

Chris Ames: How did you become a tour guide?

Deleano Seymour: It started when I was a cabbie. That’s what all the aggressive cab drivers used to do. If it was a slow day, you’d give out your card. Give a tour while you’re driving: two jobs at once. There’s no better way to get to know a city than driving its streets.

How have you seen the city change in your thirty years here?

The city has changed — but the Tenderloin? This part of town is exactly the same.

“I try not to let it get me down — it’s just life in America.”

Given that your job takes place in the live environment of the street, how do you adjust to unexpected interruptions?

You never know what’s going to happen. Once on a tour, we had some writers from WIRED along. Just around the corner, two shots were fired — boom, boom — two bodies on the ground. Then moments later, a cyclist gets side-swept by a car. There was so much commotion, the writers thought it was staged.

How do you deal with tragedy on tour?

I try not to let it get me down — it’s just life in America. It’s no different than what’s going on in New Orleans or France. The important thing is to provide areas like the TL with resources. That’s why I founded Code Tenderloin. We help provide workforce development for underrepresented people.

Why do you feel like it’s important to tour this part of the city?

We can’t forget about this place or hope it just goes away. These people aren’t going anywhere. We have to start fixing up our commercial storefronts — that’s the face of the street. This can’t be a Skid Row.

What’s next for your walking tour?

We’re going to be branching out to other districts in the city and continue to address the barriers that keep people out of work. At the end of the day, nobody knows these streets better than me — or at least, the ones that do aren’t giving tours, ha!

Written by Chris Ames, ViewFind

Del Seymour has been a member of the Tenderloin community for the past 30 years. He is a leader in the neighborhood, working with Glide Memorial Church, Swords to Plowshares and is a member of San Francisco’s Local Homeless Coordinating Board and the Board of Directors at The Gubbio Project.

Mr. Seymour is the founder of Code Tenderloin and the guide of Tenderloin Walking Tours.

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