Greg Powell, an entrepreneur and Louisiana native, has a gregarious voice — you can feel his smile beam through a phone call. The son of a local legend of candy-making (Dardanella “The Queen of Pralines” Powell), Powell grew up in Shreveport, a majority Black city that he says is “filled with vacancies and not much for residents to do.” It stands in sharp contrast to its neighbor Bossier, an affluent, primarily white suburb filled with casinos, hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops. People rarely cross the boundary between the neighborhoods, says Powell, let alone get to meet each other or share their interconnected histories.
Powell started Social Bike Rides in 2019 as a way to bring these racially divided communities together. The organization hosts bike tours along the Red River Bicycle Trail, a more than eight-mile scenic river trail that connects Shreveport’s downtown to Bossier’s East Bank. Along the way, folks stop at Marshall Mural Mile, a beautification project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and led by local councilpersons and artists. One of the murals, Once in a Millennium Moon by artist Meg Saligman, which envelops the AT&T building and was painted by a team of 11 artists and 565 residents, was once the largest mural in the world. The tour also travels through historic Black communities like Milam Street, where riders will see historic Black churches, houses, cemeteries, and schools, a statue of Huddie William Ledbetter, the famous blues and folk musician better known as “Lead Belly,” and the original KOKA-AM radio station location (the station still plays mostly gospel today).
Powell was inspired by Get Up N Ride NOLA, which was started in New Orleans in 2015 by community advocates Blake Owens and Nick Reed. According to Powell, their “Night Time Vibe Rides” — bike rides with music playing and lights threaded through the wheels’ spokes — are legendary (and have since been copied all over the world). The size of the group, the slow and social pace, and the flat terrain make them accessible to riders of all levels. Powell took those qualities to heart when designing his tours and bike rides in Shreveport and Bossier. Plus, he also rents out cruiser-style bicycles with lights in order to make joining a ride, even at night, easy.
Powell started Social Bike Rides with a few thousand dollars and 12 used bicycles with occasional support from friends and family. Today, Powell hosts regular rides periodically as well as additional special rides and Black history tours.
For Juneteenth, Powell will host a night ride on Saturday, June 17. Join them via this link.
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