Summer Intern Profile: Debbie Adekunle

Published in People in Preservation.

PPS is excited to have a robust cohort of 2021 summer interns assisting us with a wide variety of historic preservation projects! Debbie was selected as our Preservation Scholar, an internship opportunity that offers paid career exploration for students from backgrounds underrepresented in cultural heritage careers. 

Where are you from and what are you studying?

I am from Providence. I’ll be an incoming freshman at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, and I plan to double major in Neuroscience and International Studies, it might change, but we will see about that.

What made you apply for an internship with PPS?

I am someone who strives to be well-rounded and loves learning new things. I enjoy the sciences, I love policy work, and I can also indulge in art, but I’ve never really explored history and historical events in high school. This internship is the perfect opportunity to finally dive into history and my love for architecture while also learning a whole lot of new things I have never been exposed to.

You’re working on a project to expand the Guide to Providence Architecture to include erased and marginalized histories. What are some of the interesting stories you’ve come across so far? How do you think this project will help our understanding of architecture and Providence history?

I have definitely learned a lot so quickly. I can say for sure that history is significant. I have been frequently surprised by the stories I come across, and the most memorable one is about Dr. Carl Gross, an African American physician, who kept his general medical practice at 49-51 Olney Street from 1916 to 1942. As a physician, he took care of sick women and children and made house calls on nights and weekends. He also enlisted in WW I with the Army Corp and helped injured soldiers. It’s surprising to me that a black man will own his own practice in 1916, before the civil rights movement. It not only shows me how far off the public education system is but how misrepresented the history of people of color in the United States. It’s incredibly motivating to learn about lost history, especially here in Rhode Island.

This project has also made me feel like a historian. Walking down the street now, I find myself identifying and taking pictures of what could be older buildings and/or buildings with significant history. It’s wonderful the knowledge I’m gaining from my research makes it feel almost like I know what I am doing!

Anything else you’d like to share?
To be honest, prior to this internship I was bored with Rhode Island, and now I have discovered a whole new world and a whole new lens and I am very excited to continue about learning the tremendous history of the state.

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