Nwaka Onwusa on 2Pac’s Legacy, Afeni Shakur, And Music Preservation
Nwaka Onwusa is the Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Being the first African American to hold this position, she feels it is her responsibility, her duty, to make sure that the legacy of Black music is preserved properly.
“Music is spiritual and it’s a part of who I am daily, so I feel like it is on me,” Onwusa tells ESSENCE. “Like when Nina Simone commissioned all artists in this space; it is your duty. So, whether it’s just me, or a fleet of other Black women, or men, or people of color, it is my duty to tell our perspective until freedom comes.”
Raised in California, her full name – Nwaka Ngozi Onwusa – means “child greater than money.” Her father, who is a Nigerian immigrant, and her mother, who is from Louisiana, agreed upon the name because of their journey prior to conceiving their eldest daughter. “My parents named me that because of their struggle to have kids,” she said. “Having two miscarriages, then along came me. They felt as though I was a gift, and so special that they couldn’t put a price on it.”
Like many people in her profession, this UC Riverside graduate’s rise through the ranks was more of a maze than it was a straight line. She began her path working at the university box office, gaining the skill and expertise that would help her earn a job at the Grammy Museum, where she would take on similar duties. She would then be promoted to the position of Museum Education Manager, then Associate Manager, to Associate Curator, to Assistant Curator, which ultimately led to the role she holds today. It’s taken over a decade of work, but Onwusa still feels she has much more work to do. Most of all, it’s her humility and gratitude that allows her to excel in all her endeavors.