Digital Words for Posterity: HMSOM Dean, OMC Psychiatry Resident Talk Diversity, Racial Fears

David Kountz sends a text to his two sons, Black and in their 20s, every so often. The last few months, if he doesn’t hear back in 10 to 15 minutes, he starts to panic.

Sade Frazier starts to worry virtually any time her husband, a Black police officer, is on the clock helping preserve public safety on American streets, in the year 2020.

Both are doctors. Both are Black. Both are living on edge in a tumultuous time of change. And a digital time capsule has now captured their voices, fears, and concerns, for posterity.

The conversation between the two doctors was recorded by the StoryCorps Archive, one of the largest born-digital collections of human voices, featuring conversations recorded across the United States and around the world. The conversation of Kountz and Frazier is now housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

What’s more, it was selected for a presentation at the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Annual Meeting.

Their tales, though coming from slightly different vantage points, had a historical “rhyme” to them that may be all too familiar to some.

Kountz, M.D., age 60, has had an illustrious career, currently as the Vice President, Academic Diversity; Co-Chief Academic Officer of Hackensack Meridian Health, who is also the Associate Dean of Diversity and Equity, at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. Frazier, D.O., age 34, is a DO, a third-year psychiatry resident at Hackensack Meridian Ocean Medical Center, is a member of the Council on Advocacy and Government Relations of the American Psychiatric Association, as well as a Diversity Leadership Fellow of the organization Over 40 minutes, via remote connection, they discussed current circumstances in the country-wide unrest and soul searching in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minnesota, while he was being arrested by a white police officer in May. The two doctors also discussed what it’s like to be a Black physician at this time.

For Kountz, worrying about his two sons, their actual physical safety while out in public in 2020, is startling.

“I find myself really thinking about things I haven’t thought of since they were starting to drive,” said Kountz.

Meditation has helped Frazier work through some of her anxiety of police shootings of Black men. However, one recent morning she awoke to hear about another such killing – and found she could not immediately talk about it with her officer husband.

But they spoke much about their professional pressures in medicine, too. Kountz recalled that he has occasionally walked into a room, and on seeing him, non-Black colleagues have suddenly hushed. Others have expressed real anxiety when talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. Kountz also said there is something called the “minority tax” – by which professionals of color are expected to do more, above and beyond the written job description, to represent diversity while in positions of responsibility.

The pandemic has highlighted health disparities for people in underserved parts of the population – especially highlighted when it comes to public schooling and other essential services, said Frazier.

“The layers of privilege are abounding at every avenue – and it’s Black Americans, it’s African-Americans, it’s minorities, it’s the poor… we’re the ones on the receiving end of every single short stick, no matter what topic it is that you want to talk about,” said Frazier.

Both said they identified the need to “pay it forward” – to take the lessons from minority mentors they had been imparted, and help those younger Black professionals coming of age after them to get ahead.

StoryCorps is a 501c(3) non-profit who states a mission to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate word. Kountz was contacted by StoryCorps through the AAMC.

“It was quite an honor for us to be invited to participate in this project,” added Kountz.

The recording will now be preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.