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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

SF State student artist, poet remembered

Family and friends of Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts reflect on her life and legacy
Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts poses in front of a bush. (Courtesy of Edith Mariscal)
Edith Mariscal
Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts poses in front of a bush. (Courtesy of Edith Mariscal)

Amongst the trees, the seas and the breeze, San Francisco State University student Zoe Reidy-Watts’ spirit was felt through elements of nature by her friends and family after her passing on March 1 in Oakland.

Watts, also known as Nika “Killa” Watts, was a 25-year-old artist, poet, musician and friend. 

“She is alive, in the ravens and in the crows. When I hear ravens caw, I can almost hear Zoe’s laughter follow,” said Khaia Ritter, who goes by Gaia, a close friend of Watts. 

Watts was born in San Francisco on September 25, 1998. According to an artist statement she made for an exhibition gallery — EvE: Empowerment vs Exploitation — she was raised by a single mother. She attended Lincoln Middle School and Alameda High School.  

Her father, Peter Skyler Watts, was involved in the early years of her life, but her parents separated when she was between one to two years old. When she was 14, she reconnected with her father. 

“She has been the most creative, thoughtful, spiritual child I’ve ever met,” Peter said. “I was really grateful to have her back in my life.” 

They often went out to lunch together to catch up, where Watts would share her accomplishments with him. His pride as a father superseded the loss he felt after not being in her life during her youth. Peter found out about Watts’ death through a phone call with her mother, Nicole Jaffee. 

“It was just really an emotionless conversation from her. I was distraught,” Peter said. “I was hysterical finding out about it, and I still can’t even really believe that it’s fucking real. I don’t want to believe that it’s true. I still haven’t really even accepted it as real truth.” 

Peter says the last time he spoke with his daughter was six months ago. 

An alter made in the Clayroom in San Francisco on March 18 in remembrance of Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts. (Golden Gate Xpress/Adriana Hernandez) (Adriana Hernandez)

On March 16, the Clayroom in San Francisco hosted an event honoring Zoe’s artistry and memory. The Clayroom was an outlet where Watts created ceramic artwork. Peter attended the event and met a variety of people who had grown to know his daughter.  

“To see that many different people knew her and said stuff that [was] influential about her life,” Peter said. “As far as her spirit, she was pretty revolutionary and had a super positive influence on the world.” 

During middle and high school, Watts found a lifelong friend in Bella Pedersen, who also fondly remembered her spirit. 

Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts and Bella Pedersen pose with a friend in a bathroom. (Courtesy of Bella Pedersen)

“She was always so vibrant and happy,” Pedersen said. “Always smiling and laughing and just being silly. She would wear these crazy printed leggings and these super colorful psychedelic sweaters and shirts.”

Their friendship turned into a sisterhood during high school as they grew closer. Sitting side by side, they ate their lunch together. On the days Pedersen didn’t bring anything, Watts would share or buy her lunch. 

“She didn’t have to do that, but she would — just because she would never want a friend to go without anything when she had something,” Pedersen said.  

Watts had always had a passion for music, which she shared with Pedersen. They took a French class together during their first year of high school where the professor incorporated music as a tool to help them improve their language skills. Watt’s love for music intertwined with the class, as it allowed her to learn using her passion for music. 

“I remember we went to her house after school and we were looking up all these French rappers and watching their music videos,” Pedersen said. “We shared so many times like that after school. We would just go to her house and listen to music and dance in her living room and just be laughing and having such a great time together.” 

After school, they would sometimes hang out and enjoy each other’s company at Jackson Park in Alameda. Sitting in the green grass, they would share details of each other’s days, picking them apart and speaking about the minutiae of their lives at the time. 

Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts poses with Bella Pedersen during their graduation at Alameda High School in 2017. (Courtesy of Bella Pedersen)

Watts graduated from Alameda High School in June 2017. That same year, she started attending community gatherings at the Alan Blueford Center for Justice on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. The center hosted youth events and open mics centered around creativity, music and poetry. Many artists who attended the open mics were emcees and poets, making the center a central hub for the youth and creatives. 

Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts stands in front of her booth at Alan Blueford Center for Justice. (Courtesy of Dizzy Jenkins)

Watts became a regular at the center, bringing her art to share with others. Frequently,  she arranged a booth adorned with her prints and drawings available for purchase. On other occasions, she would recite her poetry. 



“She was so energetic and positive,” said Dizzy Jenkins, a multi-genre singer and songwriter from Oakland. “No matter what was going on around you in that moment at those events, you come in and she’s got this big smile on her face. I remember her being so excited to see people and giving you encouragement after your open mic. Just this brightness to her that I feel the community lost; a star.”  

Watts immersed herself in poetry and performed at the 2017 Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam, participating in the semi-finals. 

“She had a strong presence,” said Jean Teodoro, program coordinator at the time. “She memorized her piece. She knew it by heart.” 

Her piece touched on class struggles, a topic that resonated with Teodoro. Conversations about oppression and class struggles were truths Watts felt had to be spoken about. She went on to join the Spokes Youth Advisory Board, a group of 13 to 19-year-olds who helped coordinate events. 

It was during Watts’ time at Youth Speaks that she met Ritter. 

“It was really beautiful to find someone who was an air sign, was very driven in her community with regards [to] poetry [and] writing, and someone who was also biracial — who felt a struggling sense of identity in all the places they came from,” Ritter said. 

Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts stands in front of models wearing clothing pieces designed by her. (Courtesy of Khaia Ritter)

Their friendship grew as they started to collaborate on more than just poetry. They organized a photo shoot with 10-13 models — all people of color from various backgrounds and heritages to feature Watts’ print designs on hoodies. Ritter was the main photographer for the project. Watts and Ritter’s goal was to showcase a wide range of different people and cultures.  

In August 2018, Watts, Ritter and Erica Watkins created a group called Bay Area Brujas based on their love of spirituality, indigenous practices and plant-based medicine. 

“That was where we cultivated so many forms of love,” said Ritter. “Having sleepovers, tarot card readings and so many different things. I am so grateful to have known her and have given her the love that I wish that I could have given to a sister that I had been born with.”

Ritter and Watts knew each other for nine years; after almost a decade of friendship, Watts’ spirit left a lasting impact on Ritter. 

“When you interacted with Zoe, it was like all of the fungi in the forest could speak to you,” Ritter said. “All of the flowers had conversations to be heard when she walked in because anywhere she went she embodied nature. She was so in tune with everything around her. She fed the birds. She watered the plants with so much love and she leaves with me this seed of beauty and serendipity and the ability to look at so many aspects of my own life with new light.” 

Zoe Nika Reidy-Watts shares a laugh with friends. (Courtesy of Khaia Ritter)

Ritter said that Watts was the kind of friend capable of unraveling all of her jumbled thoughts. Watts’ art now hangs from Ritter’s walls as a monument to her spirit and friendship. She believes that Watts lives on through the love she has embedded in all who knew her. 

Watts began attending SFSU as a College of Liberal and Creative Arts student in 2017. Teodoro would often write references for Watts to present when she applied for jobs.  

“I haven’t spoken to Zoe in years, but she’s the kind of person you hear and always think of once in a while because of her spirit,” Teodoro said. “ How compassionate she was, and [she would] ask how you’re doing with a genuine smile.” 

Teodoro worked closely with her for two years and would continue to see her around while staying connected through social media. 

“It really did stand out to me that she talked about wanting to go to Africa and to be part of the decolonial struggles there,” Teodoro said. “I think she found a form of healing by being of service to others and caring.” 

In 2023, Watts became an artist-in-residence for the Clayroom, meaning that she had access to a shelf and $250 worth of clay and materials, as well as an opportunity to receive mentorship. It was there that she encountered Jonah Nuñez, who was the studio manager at the time.

“I was very inspired by her ideas, especially having worked with her as a tech and intern,” Nuñez said. “She had come up with this whole world. She’d been developing this amoeba landscape and she drew a lot of inspiration from microscopic organisms and [brought] things into life with her own clay creations. I just loved the world she was building.” 

On March 21, a vigil was conducted at SFSU to honor Watts’ memory and educate attendees on domestic violence prevention. Watts’ father, Pedersen and Ritter were in attendance, and an altar was created by Ritter and other close friends. Around 20 people attended, some of whom brought items in remembrance of Watts and the memories they’d created with her. 

Jada Imani Carter, a high school friend of Watts, is hosting a celebration of life for her from 3-6 p.m. on March 31 at the Alan Blueford Center for Justice in Oakland.

“The Greek meaning of the word ‘Zoe’ means eternal life,” Pedersen said. “Her physical body may be gone, but her spirit and energy will live on through all of us.”

Victor Frieson III, Watts’ boyfriend who is being charged in her death, has a plea hearing set for April 10 at 9 a.m. in Oakland. Pedersen plans on making buttons to wear during the hearing to support domestic violence awareness.

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About the Contributors
Adriana Hernandez
Adriana Hernandez, Editor-In-Chief
Adriana Hernandez (she/her) is the Editor-In-Chief for Golden Gate Xpress. She is majoring in journalism and minoring in media literacy. Adriana has a passion for storytelling, culture, art, and design. She previously wrote for The Skyline View, the student newspaper of Skyline College. In her downtime, she enjoys reading and watching films. For any inquiries, you can contact me at [email protected].  
Tam Vu
Tam Vu, Photo Editor
Tam Vu (she/her) is a Vietnamese-American photographer for Golden Gate Xpress and Xpress Magazine. She is a fourth-year photojournalism major with a minor in Asian American studies. She originally entered SF State as a print and online journalism major, but switched to photojournalism in her second year after finding her passion for visual storytelling. Her special interests include Asian American identity and music journalism. In the near future, she hopes to make a video documentary on her parents' immigration story to highlight the generational impact that the Vietnam War has on many families. Outside of school, she loves to attend live music shows, find new music, and crochet.

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