J.Rich Atlanta believes in elevating influential voices in our community. Today, we hear from Nedra Deadwyler, founder and CEO of Civil Bikes; a local bike and walking tour company whose passion is to explore the stories and history of Atlanta's neighborhoods! Enjoy!
Meet : Nedra, founder of Civil Bikes ATL
I am a Southerner by birth, both sides of my family’s roots run to middle and north-east Georgia. My life began at Georgia Baptist, a hospital that was absorbed into Atlanta Medical, meaning this city has always been part of my existence. I have vivid childhood memories of riding through Atlanta to visit my grandmother at Friendship Baptist Senior Housing, on the corner of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Vine City, going to my mom’s job downtown at the federal agency Housing Urban and Development (HUD), and other places like Underground and shopping at the Curb Market.
Growing up in Georgia meant that Dr. King was in the backdrop of Black history. The part of Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington that says, “little black boys and little black girls will join hands with little white boys and little white girls” …and live out the true meaning of our creed(s)”, has always been part of my core values. My parents both believed my brothers and I would be best served if our lives integrated with other communities. We all bused to schools on the north end of our county, went to integrated churches, and had friends who were White, Asian, Latino, Jewish, African, Black, and Indian. The world was represented in our school communities.
My family's legacy had a strong impact on my identity and much of my professional pursuits as first a social worker and now with Civil Bikes. My maternal grandparents lead marches and public demonstrations for equality for Blacks in their town. My mom was the first to integrate her high school and my dad also went to a majority white Murphy High, my uncles protested the war in Vietnam despite having many service members in our family, it was the Vietnam War that changed the dynamic as Black communities and poor communities were losing its sons at too high a cost. There was also a wide expression of Black culture—through religious practice, entrepreneurs, self-sufficiency, independence, creative and culinary arts—my large, cohesive, strong family identity kept us all together despite the harsh realities of inequalities, racism, and barriers we all faced.
My early adult and bike life began when living in New York City where I moved for grad school in 2000. I felt the tensions associated with being in the South as a Black woman and believed living in the North would be a more open-minded environment to begin my career. It was while living in NYC as a Master-level School Worker that I learned how to be fearless on the bike by trailing bike delivery workers. Later, I moved to Seattle where biking became a central part of my life and activities, eventually I returned home to Atlanta.
My appreciation for the city had risen because Atlanta was defined, by a number of people I encountered while living away, as a city that had a strong history and legacy that seemingly withstood racism. It was upheld as a place of opportunity and promise for Black people around the country. I started to see that by looking more at this city's history could help address persistent racism and build positive connections across the color lines.
Civil Bikes came out of wanting to showcase our shared humanity with a spirit of openness, community-centered, and loving-kindness. I truly believe in the power of relationships and the power of story to create a society where everyone is valued, visible, and fully part of what matters.
Civil Bikes' vision to "make everyone visible" clearly describes our motivation and a core value of Civil Bikes. It is through the place of historical significance and having conversations about marginalized groups—Blacks, People of Color, Immigrant, LGBTQ+, Women—that we best understand how these groups built strong communities, resisted erasure of forces of oppression, and created community and culture in the process.
Civil Bikes hosts biking and walking tours around Atlanta’s neighborhoods to explore the landscape, history, and other events. Events like our book club. Last Winter-Spring, we read, “Bike Lanes are White Lanes: Bicycle Advocacy and Urban Planning” by Dr. Melody Hoffmann. A variety of people came to one of the six discussions, across the age spectrum, college students, avid cyclists, non-riders, and different racial backgrounds we had real, personal conversation that followed the territory explored in her fascinating research. Check out the upcoming book club and other events here.
How to get involved:
There are many ways to get involved with Civil Bikes; join us for a tour, come to an event, become a partner or a sponsor, or offer your expertise in support of work.
We are in the planning stages of community engagement events in the fall. Teaser: I grew up observing, listening, talking to my elders, family members, family friends. It is important for us to hear and see our own stories. Civil Bikes wants to elevate the valuable resource that exists in the broader community outside of the history books and research. We will have events and invite people to join us, engage with stories, ephemeral and personal artifacts, have fun in spaces around the city, and commune with each other. We hope that this will inspire new relationships and collaborations as well as deepen older ones.
It is our mission to share more stories from people who are living in the city, stories about Black, People of Color, Immigrant, LGBTQ+, and Women, and more. Civil Bikes has collaborated with organizations such as We Love BuHi in support of their mission to uplift the presence, history, stories of immigrant business owners and those in an immigrant community within the Buford Highway corridor through three Bikes and Bites bicycle tours. We are open to partnerships with organizations, we are looking for sponsorships, and collaborators to host special events. We've hosted free tours, rides, and events for the general community at a cost to us. We would like to make these opportunities consistently available.
As a participant in the Center for Civic Innovation Fellowship and Residency Programs, our goal is to grow and scale. This year we are doing some fine-tuning and opening to have more tour guides and strong processes. We plan to be around for a long time telling stories to build our capacity to form a strong community where everyone is visible.
Q&A with Nedra Deadwyler
1. What are the top 3 most interesting stops on the bike tour?
Because the tours are all different, my top favorite locations are the Capital Building to view a sculpture by John T. Riddle, Auburn Avenue has great stories and Grace Towns Hamilton house on the Westside.
2. Are there different types of tours?
There are a number of tours! We hold both walking and biking tours and in general, most bike tours will have a corresponding walking tour. Keep in mind, the walking tours cover less distance. There is one tour that runs on the east side in Kirkwood. The Early Edgewood/ Candler Park is hosted in collaboration with the Bi-racial History Project for the past three years.
We have three tours that are in downtown neighborhoods, the Sweet Auburn Tour, Dr. King's Atlanta, and Tracing the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement. There are a few similar stops between the tours and Tracing the Roots and Dr. King's Atlanta both enter into different parts of the city. Tracing the Roots heads over to the Capital Building and South Downtown. Dr. King's Atlanta heads over to Vine City and Atlanta University. For those who would like to see more of Atlanta, those are the tours to select.
There are two tours on the Westside. A bike tour that visits the lives of women organizers and political activists. And one walking tour, the Westside Heritage Tour that is in collaboration with the Herndon House Museum on Diamond Hill.
3. What is the most interesting thing you have learned about Atlanta since hosting these tours?
I have actually learned most things about Atlanta while doing my research, readings, and talking to a number of people about the city. Some of the tops, Dr. Cliff Kuhn's walking tour of the 1906 Race Riot, the wide assortment of individuals women and men who were part of building Black Atlanta/ Atlanta- Ruby Parks Blackburn; beautician turned community organizer, activist, and political consultant, Benjamin Davis; newspaperman, activist, builder, and some neighborhood history such as the use of codes, zoning, and city ordinances were used as a tool for segregation and gave the city its racial patterns.
4. What are you most excited about for the future of Civil Bikes?
Civil Bikes has a big future ahead of itself and I'm excited to see more of that fleshed out! Not only with more tours, collaborations and partnerships but I think there are some initiatives that will come out of the journey. Over the past year, I was a Fellow with the Center for Civic Innovation and will be in the Residency program this next year. This means that I am taking some effort to lay a stronger foundation i.e. get procedures in place, instil some best practices for the office, staff, take the time to do more community-building and capacity-building, and build for impact and leaving a legacy. These are very broad statements. The impression you should have is that there are many ways to get connected and involved with Civil Bikes and joining us for a tour is an initial step.
5. How does a tour work? Do you bring your own bike? How long does it last? Etc..
On the tour day, participants arrive at the rendezvous location which is specific to each tour and is included in the Tour Confirmation response. Before each tour begins, we cover the basics, signing of insurance waiver, distribution of rental bikes, review of how to use the rental bike and practice ride, and cover Rules of the Road which is the set of rules we follow on tour. People are welcome to bring their own bicycle. I am a League Certified Instructor, LCI, which means that I passed a national course on bicycle safety. Tour guides are brought up to speed on how to lead and support tours in a safe way. The Civil Bikes team will introduce themselves and provide an overview of the tour and route. Once everyone is ready, we roll out! We encourage those riding to join us in conversation by asking questions and invite people to ask questions and share their insights. The tour engages history, place, and what all that is in sight. For this reason, we do not treat the history or the city like a trivia board, instead, we take our time and layer the story as we move from one location to the next. At this time, most of our stories are focused on Black history and all of our tours are about marginalized groups, women, POC, immigrant, LGBTQ+, as these histories are not widely known. We hope that our tour will increase awareness by telling the stories that have not been told or lesser known.
6. How does someone book a tour with you?
There are a few ways to book a tour with Civil Bikes. We have a calendar on our website at www.civilbikes.com, once there, click for your selection. You can also send an email via our website or to firstname.lastname@example.org and request a tour for your group or at a specific date/ time. If we are able to accommodate a request that is not on our calendar, we will fulfil most requests. Once the tour is scheduled, you'll receive a confirmation for the tour.