Most people came to know the name Niko Black from when the cancer-stricken Mescalero Apache woman was controversially evicted from her foreclosed Garden Grove home late last year. The story of her wheelchair stand-off with sheriff's deputies on the morning of Oct. 10 and the ensuing, ongoing legal battle against Wells Fargo attracted media attention, including that of the Weekly (see my "Niko Black Won't Surrender," Dec. 6, 2012).
But those who grew up with her know another side of Black. In better times, she was an active fixture in the Orange County and Long Beach music scenes. "She ran a spot called the Liquid Den," says Allensworth front man Jamie Allensworth. "They had live bands seven nights a week. I think there were even times when musicians weren't pulling in heads, and she would dip into her own funds to keep the scene alive."
In appreciation of a supporter of local music, it's only fitting that Allensworth and others decided to put together a benefit concert for their friend at Costa Mesa's Detroit Bar. Black's fight in court continues, with pro-bono representation from Stephen R. Golden & Associates. But "it was brought to my attention early on that, financially, she wasn't doing too well," Allensworth says. "I'm not saying we can raise enough to buy her a house in which she can live comfortably again, but we can definitely help her with medical needs right now."
Since being evicted, Black has bounced from place to place. In a move mired in controversy, she was effectively locked out of Grandma's House of Hope, a local nonprofit that took her in but also counted the Wells Fargo Foundation among its key donors. After that, Black stayed for a month at a Motel 6 in Westminster, then moved to Buena Park's notoriously seedy Crescent Motel. Her current whereabouts are being kept on the down-low.
On the legal front, a new wrongful-foreclosure complaint has been filed, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has agreed to investigate. The clearing out of her house was an extremely contentious matter. "According to Wells Fargo," a spokesperson for Goldman & Associates says, "the property was sold to a third party in January." The sale was made despite pending litigation.
"It hits home," says Allensworth, who went to junior high and high school with Black. "The same house that she got evicted from, we partied at quite a bit with bands."
Even under such somberness, Allensworth promises a festive mood. "It's going to be a celebration," he says of the benefit. "Her tribe is going to come down and bless the night. We wish it was under different circumstances, obviously, but what better way to celebrate than raising money for a friend in need?" His funky, soulful septet will perform new material from Against the Grain, their sophomore album, which was released earlier this year. Allensworth is hoping Black will be well enough to join the band onstage. If she isn't, show organizers plan to prerecord a video message from the guest of honor.
As to exactly how she's feeling these days, the news is not good. "I'm in such bad shape," Black says, noting extremely high blood pressure, respiratory problems and multiple trips to the emergency room. "My heart is quite literally, not figuratively, broken."
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It helps that she has friends who haven't left her side. Mitzi Wong Cristobal, Destiny Mollison and Sarah Barba were not only able to help put the benefit together with Allensworth, but they also convinced Black to allow them to proceed with the effort. Black is very blunt about her situation, saying she doesn't believe she has very long to live, but she is beside herself with gratitude and love.
And now the appreciation has turned into motivation. "I'm hellbound determined to make it to the venue and play some fucking music," she says, "even if I have to go to the ER afterward."
Allensworth perform with Micah Brown, DJ Melloman and special guests as part of the Niko Black Benefit at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Thurs., March 28, 8 p.m. $10. 21+.