Judy Belk and Debra Nakatomi

Featured Image: Orange painted background. Title text reading Can we talk about...? Episode 6. Judy Belk and Debra Nakatomi on leading with lived experience.


Judy Belk (senior advisor and former president and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation, also known as “Cal Wellness”) and Debra Nakatomi (CEO of NakatomiPR, trustee and former board chair of The California Wellness Foundation) exchange powerful stories of their experiences with race from childhood to the present, reflecting on what’s possible when foundations lead with lived experience.  

Together they underscore the importance of intentionality in board recruitment, accountability at the board level and the willingness to be pushed in this work. As they reflect on Cal Wellness’ journey, they present a blueprint for how foundations can go beyond their grantmaking dollars – using their voice, endowments and power of their trustees – to maximize their service to communities. 


References and Resources

  • H.R.442
    Debra shares her family’s history with wrongful internment by the U.S. Government during World War II and how that has shaped her lens and experiences. She mentions H.R.442, also known as the Civil Liberties Act of 1987, which was passed to grant reparations to Japanese-American families who were interned. You can learn more about redress and reparations for Japanese-American incarceration here.
  • Virginia Theological Seminary Reparations
    Judy shares the story of how her family became eligible to receive reparations from the Virginia Theological Seminary for the mistreatment of her ancestors who once worked on the property. She acknowledges the complex discussions around reparations that she has had within her family, and how similar conversations are happening at the Cal Wellness board table and across the state. 
  • Gary Yates
    Both Judy and Debra mention the impact and legacy of Gary Yates, CEO and president of Cal Wellness from 1992-2011. During his tenure, Yates was committed to building a board and staff that reflected the diversity of California, paving the way for the foundation’s community-centered approach that continues today.
  • Trustees Advancing Race Equity in Philanthropy
    Judy mentions doing annual planning for leveraging the power of Cal Wellness trustees, which led to a group of African American trustees organizing in California to secure a meeting with the governor to talk about the needs of the African American community. Debra references several other spaces where trustees are coming together to advance race equity in philanthropy including HIP: Hispanics in Philanthropy,  AAPIP: Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and ABFE: Association of Black Foundation Executives


Individual Reflection Questions 

  1. When listening to Debra and Judy’s stories, what stood out to you as their ‘why’? What is your ‘why’ in this work?
  2. Think about your own board or team. What voices are present? What voices are missing? How do you think that has impacted decisions?


Group Exercise

Where I’m From Poem

As Judy and Debra modeled in their episode, bringing our full selves, lived experiences, and unique identities to this work can help foster meaningful and trusting relationships among board members. Writing and sharing a Where I’m From poem is an exercise that can lead to greater connection and help us learn from our colleagues’ lived experiences. 

Individually, fill in the blanks using places, things, people or events that evoke strong memories and a sense of self. These verses can be as long or short as you desire, and ideally guided by memories and emotions that show up, along with what has shaped you as a person. Share your poems as a group, and learn something new about your fellow board members.  

I am from ________________, ________________________ and ______________________. 

Some examples may include: 

  • Family names 
  • Food and meals 
  • Details about your home or place you grew up 
  • Nostalgic songs 
  • Smells, tases, textures 
  • Stories, books or poetry 
  • Words or phrases you heard growing up 
  • The best things you were told 
  • The worst things you were told 
  • Family traditions 
  • Losses, grief 
  • Family Traits 
  • Pets, animals 

You can check out this YouTube video put together by NPR’s Morning Edition of students from Schmucker Middle School reading their Where I’m From poems. 

This poem’s inspiration originally came from Geowrge Ella Lyon, an author, teacher and poet from Kentucky. Many thanks to Linh Nygen from the Lumina Foundation, for leading Philanthropy Northwest through this exercise. 


Episode Highlight



This episode of Can we talk about…? was produced by Aya Tsuruta (Executive Producer), Emily Daman (Producer) and Jesse McCune of Podfly (Audio Engineer).

Special thanks to Asha Hossain (Graphic Design), Nancy Sanabria (Episode Host), Komiku (Music), David Littlefield (Public Affairs Manager) and to our Philanthropy Northwest and Giving Practice teams for their thought partnership and support. Thank you to the Ford Foundation for making this project possible.

Judy Belk Headshot
Judy Belk
Senior Advisor and Former President and CEO, California Wellness Foundation

Judy brings her experience as senior advisor and former president and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation, one of the largest health-focused foundations in California, with more than $1 billion in assets. During her tenure from 2014 to 2023, Judy led the foundation to take bold, community-centered action for historically underserved communities and individuals, directing the majority of grantmaking dollars in 2022 to BIPOC-led organizations and implementing a $13-million investment in initiatives to address health issues that disproportionately affect women of color, among other accomplishments. Judy also brings her lived experience as a Black woman growing up in Alexandria, Virginia - 10 miles from the White House, and the impact of systemic injustices she faced to the conversation. Today, Judy draws on her nearly 30 years of experience in philanthropy, continuing her work as a trustee for the Surdna Foundation and as a storyteller and writer about her personal and professional journey as a woman and woman of color.

Debra Nakatomi Headshot
Debra Nakatomi
President, NakatomiPR

Debra Nakatomi is president and CEO of NakatomiPR, a strategic communications consulting firm committed to advancing social change and racial equity. For over 30 years, she’s led statewide and national multicultural awareness campaigns promoting health equity and behavior change and combatting Asian hate violence. She leads the firm’s strategic and creative vision and is a trusted advisor to CEOs and purpose-driven leaders on organizational growth, change initiatives and issues management communications. Debra has dedicated her career to strengthening mission-driven organizations. She is the former board chair and currently serves as trustee of The California Wellness Foundation, working to deliver on its mission to improve the health and wellness of the people of California. A lifelong advocate for gender equity, she serves on the board of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), comprising nine million members in 153 countries. She also serves on the Board of Governors of Little Tokyo Service Center and the Advisory Councils for Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Los Angeles, Peace Over Violence, Kizuna and the Irene Hirano Inouye Philanthropic Leadership Fund.


Debra co-produced the Mineta Legacy Project which includes a PBS TV documentary, Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story, and an online curriculum, What Does it Mean to Be An American? profiling the life and career of Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. She also co-produced Stories From Tohoku, a PBS documentary about survivors of the 2011 Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. An active member of the Japanese-American community, Debra was conferred the award of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays by the government of Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs for promoting mutual understanding between Japan and the United States. 

You may also be interested in

Stay Connected

Sign up for our quarterly newsletters to get the latest TGP reflections and resources right in your inbox.