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Gov. Ron DeSantis has faced criticism over his decision to reject an Advanced Placement course on African American studies to be taught in Florida high schools. February is Black History Month, and we asked educators, historians, and community members to weigh in on why teaching the full scope of history is more important than ever. We’re sharing what they had to say, in their own words.

A local artist shares how her own history and experiences have shaped her music

Professional black and white photo of woman sitting on ground in a suit.
Siobhan Monique
Ancestral funk artist Siobhan Monique is a St. Petersburg native. She uses her own experiences from her community to shape her sound.

As part of WUSF’s ongoing series asking for your stories about Black history, we hear from ancestral funk artist Siobhan Monique.

The St. Petersburg native is the lead singer of a 10-piece-band called Siobhan Monique and the Negro Ninjas.

She looks back on her experience as a Black woman and illustrates how her own history and roots in the community have shaped the music she makes today.

“You know, Black History Month, it's such an extensive, deep and multifaceted, galactic, astral experience, the black experience. So to even try to put it in a month, to me, doesn't even do justice.”

Monique has been a part of the St. Petersburg community her whole life. Her uncle was famed local trombonist Buster Cooper, who played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for seven years.

At the age of three, Monique was performing on stage, and by twelve, she sang in front of her first big jazz band.

“What I can take away for me as a Black woman and Black history, and being Black in the Black experience, and what it has done for me as an artist, is something that nothing else would have been able to do.”

“Music found me,” Monique said. “Some people get an opportunity and a chance to choose what it is that they want to do. They may be multifaceted and talented and so many things, where they’re like, ‘Okay, this is exactly what it is that I want to do.’ But, I was born with this gift. I came on this earth with this gift.”

“It has shown me how to take the pain that has been unjustly forced upon you, and turn it into power. That is magic within itself. And not only power, but make it so incredibly powerful that it is a healing component for others. Not just Black people, but all people.”

Woman stands in front of yellow background with leaves covering her.
Siobhan Monique
Ancestral funk artist Siobhan Monique is a St. Petersburg native. She uses her own experiences from her community to shape her sound.

“So, one thing that was supposed to wipe you out specifically for the color of your skin, or heartbreak, or trials and tribulations, you're able to turn that into such a magnificent power that it tells a story to help other people get through whatever it is they have to go through.”

“I have had so many amazing examples of that. Not only do they do it, but they build the blocks for me to be able to do so much more.”

Service is something important to Monique’s family.

“My family is deep rooted in the community. All the way from a lawn care service to jazz musicians with Duke Ellington and everything in between – restaurant owners, we have teachers, we have doctors, we have all of that within my family.”

“We’ve always given back to the community. And it hasn’t been something that has been seen as an event or a task or something that we’re doing for accolades. It was just a part of who and what we were,” she added. “When we make the community rich, then we make the home that we're living at rich, we make the surroundings for us rich, and we help other people, too. We enrich others. So, community service and community was something that was a part of my family. Well, before I got here, so I'm just following the course.”

“I feel like the powers and forces that be, tried to instill and create things around us that make us feel like there is no hope for the future. But when you are in the certain places and spaces within the community, you see the beauty of what is going to be someday. And I think it gives me a lot of hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

“What I would say to artists is if you feel that there's a need, just act and move, you may not have all the pieces of the puzzle and all the tools and everything that you need, in that particular moment – but just do something. Try not to allow your fears to get in the way because they do manifest and they do become their own entity if you feed them and give them power. So don't allow your fear to stop you from providing that need.”

To merge the past and the future, as well as what Monique calls “amplify the present,” she created a music festival called Motherland, a place where she says the village comes to life.

“We have enough support and love within this community for artists to be able to achieve their dreams if we all come together,” she said. “And I just know for myself and for other artists that that appears to be difficult to get and receive certain things. But I know that the community has it and can provide it.”

Two women holding hands in prayer on stage.
Siobhan Monique
Siobhan Monique (left) holds hands with her mother and manager, Melissa Roland (right), as the two have a personal moment at a performance.

Melissa Roland is Monique’s mom and manager. She explained the festival was Monique’s “brainchild,” but it was her responsibility to make it happen.

“When people say, ‘Well, why the term ‘motherland’?’ Well, of course, when you think of motherland, you're going to think of a geographical place, you're going to think of something like a land or space where you go,” Roland said. “But truly, motherland is really your geographical space for your heart. That's what (the festival) is all about. It is who you truly are, where you truly came from, not the land, not the space, but you as a human being.”

“So, if we can just bridge that gap to get that united and together, then I think it's going to elevate us as a whole, as a collective,” said Monique.

“Because the community may be where you get your knowledge, but the village is where you get your power and your strength.”

Motherland Music Festival will take place at Williams Park in St. Petersburg, April 22, from 4-8 p.m.

To hear more of Monique’s music, visit ancestralfunk.com.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.