The Atlanta race and history educator, tour founder, and “belonging” advocate on how building community continues to shape her own self-care.
– KEYS SOULCARE
For the last seven years, Nedra Deadwyler has been best known as the founder of Civil Bikes, a bike-meets-Civil Rights history tour in Atlanta that connects people to spaces, centering history-making Black female and gender non-conforming individuals.
After a summer marked by calls for reckoning around ideas Nedra has voiced for years, we caught up with Nedra to talk about her vision and the important conversations that are yet to be had in the name of building community.
How do you define yourself and what you do?
I would say I’m a person who lives in a way that’s intuitive, and in search of who I am and my life’s purpose. Also, a bit of an observer. I am at a point where so much has changed since we started [Civil Bikes] in 2013. There is now a mainstream conversation around race. It’s not just within academia, certain circles, or groups: we’re talking about race, culture, and identity on a national level, and looking at policies and how they affect our day to day.
That sounds like a big shift from when you first launched…
That’s a major shift. And, even still, we’re marking the first Black CEO of this organization, or that research firm. There are still people of color who have a critical lens across race, class, gender, and institutions — and that’s still so needed.
If we look back 50 years ago, major uprisings around social justice pushed us all to be more cognizant and less caught in our own bubbles. I continue to try to figure out what this means for me, what work means for me, and what life means for me.
How does your work support your vision of yourself?
The word of the day is “inclusive.” But I use the word belonging, and I believe in trying to create a sense of belongingness.
What has running an organization that’s so community-focused taught you about self-care?
How to best use what I have to do something positive. Also, I’ve been capable of burning myself out by not stabilizing my life, my relationships, or very personal goals to ground me in me. [Now] it can become all about a larger community and being interdependent, rather than being a self-sustaining person that’s part of something larger.
How have you shifted your view of yourself, with that in mind?
I work part-time for The Center for Civic Innovation. Three years ago, I joined as a fellow because I wanted to look at scaling my business, Civil Bikes. But I started hitting my own resistance [by] realizing that I’m a community person, versus a “business” person. [I realized] my audience wasn’t everybody [who wanted to take a tour], but rather people looking to have meaningful conversations about race. And realizing that even though my business is based on tours, leading them is not what I like best about it.
You’ve done a great job of inviting discussion about who communities are for and what “healthy communities” mean for everyone. Can you give an example of how that plays out?
When most people talk about bikes, they just want to hear [the] fun stuff, like, “It’s fun! It’s green! It’s sustainable! I’m exercising!” But a bike is just a machine. And, within history, that machine has been used to justify who has rights to a certain location, lifestyle, or comfort zone. Imagine living in a pedestrian space all of your life, until you’re an older person, and [there] suddenly becomes a bike space with all these people zipping around on bikes. It’s a conversation worth having, even though it’s complex. That’s part of building community, too.
What taught you about caring for yourself?
A lot of life, our attachment to things is based on a false reality. So it’s about letting the cards fall a little sometimes, and letting go control over everything. I cannot tell you how much anger I’ve had over trying to make people understand what I’m talking about. There have been some tears! But they are tears because I know that if people don’t change, then [people of color] — and all of us, really — are continuously being harmed. But I’m learning that as much as I’d like to, I can’t solely control that, either. It’s multilayered.
Where can we continue to follow your work?
Great question. There will be a Civil Bikes app, and ways that people, no matter where they are, can connect and become storytellers within it. I can also be found on my consulting website and Instagram!
How are you living authentically while allowing yourself to evolve? How can you make more space to do so?