Civil Bikes Founder Nedra Deadwyler on Touring Atlanta's Rich Black History
At first glance, Civil Bikes may be confused as just another tourist bike and walking tour in the city of Atlanta. But your first impression would be wrong. At its heart, Civil Bikes is a social movement to change the way we see and understand our city and its rich Black history. Its founder Nedra Deadwyler merges Atlanta’s civil rights history with its growing arts scene through engaging storytelling to make the tour participants think beyond the surface.
“The pulse of a place is in the streets, sidewalks, it is making that contact where a place speaks and tells you about itself,” says Deadwyler.
Deadwyler shares that Civil Bikes came about as “an extension of my lived experience.” She grew up listening to her family’s stories and experiences as they relate to racial lines and it created dissonance as she tried to understand the injustices she was exposed to. “I constantly asked why, how, when, trying to understand the world around me.”
That powerful push to further her understanding of intersectionality and social change inspired Deadwyler to start Civil Bikes, a historical walking and biking tour company that helps participants examine how the city is connected through advocacy, education and history.
“Storytelling is an art — I am an introvert so embodying the story and allowing that to be present in my communication. My job is to make room for the stories and for others to be part of the process.”
“Civil Bikes is my current practice of how I view the world, what I'm meditating on to bring about social change. We use history to bring healing and restoration. My social work skills come in handy when interacting with people and for group facilitation,” says Deadwyler.
Civil Bikes came to fruition in late 2014 and now five years later, with Deadwyler having another full-time job, the company continues to flourish. Deadwyler was a 2018 Civic Innovation Fellows at the Center for Civic Innovation, where she got access to workshops, mentorship, and leadership development training to further her vision.
“Our vision is more important — to make everyone visible and informed. Our services are multi-faceted — our main product is biking and walking tours, but there is also a book club and lecture series, Pop-up Museum, and collaborations.”
As part of her vision, Deadwyler also takes the time to give back to other organizations, businesses, and underrepresented groups as a way to incorporate community engagement into her business. “I've donated money to things that I firmly believe are important like youth and women, on tours we stop at Black-owned businesses, and we try to partner and support other individuals, organizations, businesses that are doing the work to support and uplift Black, Indigenous, Immigrant, LGBTQ people and communities. I use my platform to focus on the things I believe.”
Starting and trying to grow the businesses as a solopreneur brings its challenges as well, no matter how clear your vision is. Deadwyler continues to scale Civil Bikes by recruiting volunteers to expand its staff and grow its social impact footprint in the city.
As she juggles all priorities, she tries to connect partnerships to her daily activities to continue to grow her impact. “Starting a business is a great opportunity to learn about yourself, others, and humanity — it’s so important to keep a sense of humor about everything. I have tried to please others, but failed miserably at the same time.”
“It is most important to value yourself, value your time, energy, commitment, money, dreams and not allow anyone to sabotage, distract, undervalue or dismiss you. But also, eat and sleep well and plan down time.”
She hopes that those that participate in her tours, whether by foot or on a bike, are able to walk away with a deeper appreciation of Black people’s history and contribution to Atlanta and the broader world, from a rich legacy of arts and culture to entrepreneurship and civic duty. “Our contributions are not communicated or are summed up in a few individuals. By fully acknowledging the past, I believe we will be able to value the present.”
“Civil Bikes is my vehicle to make, do, be social impact in Atlanta. I want to change how we communicate, interact and understand each other cross-culturally because that will be the start of creating a world where everyone is visible.”