The Answers Are in the Streets
You don’t need to go to history books to try to understand what African Americans are trying to explain to those of us who don’t share their lived experiences. In fact, don’t go there because you won’t find the answers (unless they’re the astounding MARCH trilogy of graphic novels by Civil Rights icon, John Lewis).
The answers are in the streets — in the buildings that you may not know were built with slave and prison labor, the highways that tore apart the fabric of black communities, the redlining that kept African Americans from getting mortgages that could lead to compounded inherited wealth for their children, the persistent education and wage gaps that manifest themselves in a lower quality of life, the toxic industries disproportionately located in low-income communities which can then have negative effects on health (especially for children) and require increasingly unaffordable healthcare, and the daily micro-aggressions and fear of profiling which our fellow citizens currently experience when driving a car, walking a street, or even riding a bike.
In Atlanta, the heart of the Civil Rights movement and a city increasingly committed to (or at least talking about) trying to find solutions to systemic racism, we have two companies — Civil Bikes and Bicycle Tours of Atlanta— that take you to the streets on bike to help you see this history and its enduring effects. I am friends with the owners (Nedra and Robyn) of both companies.
Nedra was my instructor for the Smart Cycling course and assistant instructor for the League of American Bicyclists’ League Cycling Instructor course (about both of which I wrote in my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike). I rode with her down Peachtree Street at Atlanta Streets Alive yesterday, and I hope to take her tour soon. (Here she is pictured from yesterday with a fellow League Cycling Instructor and friend of mine, Kartapreet Singh, who is on the Board of Directors at Sopo, a community bike cooperative.)
I took Robyn’s Fall in Love with Atlanta tour a year or so ago, and I just took her new Journey to Civil Rights tour last week. Her tours are rated as the #1 Atlanta outdoor activity on Trip Advisor and I highly recommend them if you are visiting Atlanta or if you live here and want to see Atlanta in a whole new way.
The Journey to Civil Rights with Bicycle Tours of Atlanta features a former Sweet Auburn Avenue walking-tour guide named Victoria. She is passionate, knowledgeable, and engaging as she leads a group on terrific, comfortable bikes that handle Atlanta’s hills beautifully. We stopped in Inman Park (the first whites-only suburb of Atlanta), at a neighborhood named Reynoldstown that used to be exclusively for newly freed African American slaves, at the Oakland Cemetery (where a black burial section was relocated when the real estate there became too valuable and their bodies were replaced with white bodies), at the Georgia State Capitol (where we learned fascinating information about several sculptures and monuments), at the former Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta (where a famous lunch counter sit-in happened), in streets where riots occurred (where we found out why), at several spots on historic Sweet Auburn Avenue, and more.
While on this ride, it is impossible not to notice the living, breathing history-in-the-making happening around you. The people in need who you pass on the street. The expressions of diverse truths that surround you in the multitude of public murals and street art. The unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable moments where lives collide and the legacy of our country’s history becomes clear. Bicycle Tours of Atlanta manages these experiences with smooth expertise that enables you to dip your toe safely into what is really a murky sea of questions for you to pursue beyond the tour, if you choose to do so. I have been spending the past few years trying to learn and understand the bigger picture of our society’s inequalities, and this tour catapulted me forward.
What’s more, taking a Bicycle Tours of Atlanta bike tour provides an extraordinary opportunity to practice and grow your urban bike riding skills while under the watchful eyes of seasoned road safety experts, and to see how safe access-for-all in our shared public spaces matters. You will be shocked at how easy it is to get places in the City of Atlanta via bike, how close places are, and how supportive a community there is for bike riding. You will understand why I go out of my way to ride in the City of Atlanta on such a regular basis. And you may even see why I come home with a new understanding about some of the most pressing questions in the news.
If you get nothing else out of it (and almost 500 five-star reviews lead me to think that won’t be the case), you’re helping support women-owned small businesses. And you get a nice bike ride in, too, which is always a good day in my book.