The Human Missile Crisis creates havoc on her skates as a jammer for the Atlanta Roller Derby team. Nikita Raper creates works of art on her potter's wheel and encourages others to do the same. Nikita and the Human Missile Crisis are the same versatile person who fights for points in the rink and uses her art and heart for others to better lives. Throughout these diverse parts of her life, this young woman values community, acceptance, and healing as key components of her eclectic endeavors.
There are those who create art and those who create havoc and those who make creating havoc look like artistry in motion. Nikita Raper, "The Human Missile Crisis," is all of those people.
The Skater's Wheels
As a high schooler, Nikita watched the movie Whip It and vowed to become a roller girl. When the young art and psychology major from Marietta, Georgia, enrolled at the University of Georgia, one of the first things she did was to become involved with the roller derby league in Athens.
"Two weeks after arriving in Athens," Human explains (that's shorthand for Human Missile Crisis), "I showed up at the rink and announced that I wanted to be a roller girl." The teams there invited her to practice a few days later, and her journey began. Did I mention that at this point Nikita couldn't skate? That's right. She learned to skate as she learned all about her new sport, and it didn't come easy.
In fact, when asked if the sport came naturally to her, she laughs, "They actually use me as an example for why it's okay to struggle for much longer than normal and still play because I loved it so much." It took her a year and a half to bout, or play a game, when it usually takes people four to eight months. You wouldn't know that by watching her today.
On a Saturday night in February, Jeff and I made our inaugural trip to an Atlanta Roller Derby doubleheader. Atlanta Roller Derby is part of the Women's Flat Track Roller Derby Association, which is an international organization. The first bout, the Glamma Rays versus Toxic Shock, is where we first saw the Human Missile Crisis in action. It was impressive! A group of players with names like Madditude Adjustment and Arithrottle went skate-to-skate with Blaque Jac and B Sharp. Even the referees have attitude with names like Grand Master Bash, Father Time Out, and Germain of Thrones. While there, we were struck by the overall diversity of the players and the fans. We also noticed a strong sense of community between everyone involved. It's that community and acceptance that makes this sport so special to Nikita.
"The community is amazing. Generally, roller derby teams tend to pair with nonprofits and to file for nonprofit status. Much of the outreach partners with other communities," she says. "Everyone does their part; it's for the skater by the skater. You have a league job and all sorts of responsibilities that give you a sense of ownership in what we're making together."
The acceptance of roller derby is another one of its strengths. "When I started, I was 18 and my friends in the sport were much older. They shared their maturity and wisdom with me and nurtured me. Many of us come to roller derby because we identify as misfits. You get people from every walk of life and you never have to be a certain body type or size to be successful."
The sense of community was strong when we went to watch the bouts. It was obvious that many people had found a place where they felt comfortable and accepted and truly enjoyed being a participant or a fan. All of the team members were busy selling tickets, setting up the rink, and selling merchandise. None of the skaters are paid for their time; they participate for the love of the sport and the community.
The sport gives back to its participants in a way that is unlike anything else. After watching Human Missile Crisis skate, it's obvious that she loves being part of all aspects of the team. "It's all parts of it that I love," she explains. "It's sitting on the bench and all of the energy that we create. Part of my role as the captain is making sure that we have the right energy and imparting my energy."
She also likes how skating makes her feel. "When I learned to skate and wasn't constantly falling over my feet, it felt like I was able to move in a way that I was meant to for the first time. I felt more myself in a way. Even though it's not a natural movement, every time I'm off skates for awhile, when I return, it's like coming home."
Speaking of coming home, Nikita's parents are very supportive of her being part of roller derby. "At first my dad wasn't thrilled about me being involved, but once he saw the community and all the positives of me being surrounded by so many mature, strong women, he definitely came around." Her dad took up skating to spend time with his daughter and now skates in the men's derby league under the derby name of "Papa Crisis."
Now to the Other Wheel
The other side of Nikita's life is grounded in art and helping others. She has been able to turn her degree in art and psychology into a way to reach out. She taught art lessons and learned of the ways that art could help people work through loss and traumatic experiences.
Through the owner of Color Wheel, an after school art program, Nikita became involved in Paint Love, a nonprofit that partners community artists with other nonprofits to teach art and workshops in places and with people that would not usually have access to these resources. This program works with children at the children at a local homeless shelter and does a great deal of work with Camp Peace, which is for children who have experienced or been touched by domestic violence. "I am enjoying working with students and having an impact on their lives. I love seeing not only the development of the art, but also the development of the person."
It is her love for helping others that has led her to pursue a masters degree in social work at Kennesaw State University. While she goes to school, she works with the Division of Family and Children's Services as an intern and continues to use her art in work with nonprofits.
One of these nonprofits is Kate's Club, which is for children who have lost siblings. Nikita is hoping to do a workshop with this organization in April where grief counseling is provided along with art in hopes of making art projects that resonate with these children as they navigate their pain. "I hope to work to learn how they implement these programs and gain a better understanding about the clinical practice."
...And It All Rolls Back Around
So, how does she make all the parts of her life work together?
"The roller team really supports my art. They come in for workshops that I will do. I've done some work for them to sell in silent auctions. If I'm trying to sell work or put on a workshop, my larger group from derby feeds into that and truly invests in what I'm doing."
This is all part of the fresh path that Nikita is not just taking but really trailblazing in her life. Her advice to those who want to try something new?
"It's all about how much you want it and how much you're willing to prioritize putting in the time to learn something new. I think people believe that if something doesn't come to them naturally or doesn't come together in the time they allotted to it, then they won't be able to achieve what they want to achieve. But I would tell them to keep at it despite of the hardships. I could have stopped after a year and a half of roller derby and thought I really wasn't made for this, but I wanted it badly enough and was willing to put in the hours to make it work. I never thought about quitting because I wanted it so badly and loved it so much."
Nikita adds that it is important to have gratitude for being able to live the life you're living. "Gratitude seems to have a magic to it and it seems to be a common theme of those who participate in this sport. We all celebrate together whether we're on the same team or competing against each other. We're all building this thing from scratch and we want to support each other."