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Hollywood by Choice


Hearing The Good Word framed in a Hollywood perspective is simply life altering and amazingly uplifting. That’s exactly what you walked away with at The Merge Summit held recently in Downtown Los Angeles at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

As an entertainment writer, I always ask successful performers, writers, directors etc. what they attribute their success in Hollywood to?

Invariably, they all say their faith in God is their source of power, and they are eager to share how God turned their lives and careers around.

The Merge Summit is a unique event created to inspire synergy with faith-based and entertainment industry leaders to educate, uplift, and encourage attendees to aspire towards their professional and personal goals.

Two women rooted and grounded in faith, and very aware of Hollywood ‘doings’ gave birth to this vision. The Merge Summit began in 2009, and was the brainchild of co-founders Holly Carter and Robi Reed, who was also co-chair of the event.

Carter is a producer, manager and executive leading Relevé Entertainment, an integrated media and entertainment company specializing in faith-based media content.

Reed is the vice president of talent and casting for original programming at Black Entertainment Television (BET), where she oversees talent and casting for scripted and non-scripted programming. Reed has more than 50 films and television shows to her credit, including “The Best Man,” “Soul Food,” “For Colored Girls,” “Love Jones,” “Set It Off,” “In Living Color” and “Girlfriends.” Reed got her start working with writer-director Spike Lee.

There is nothing like hearing how faith works in Hollywood directly from the person who’s ‘been there and done that’ and that’s what The Merge Summit was all about. The Summit featured more than 20 interactive panel discussions, powerful master classes and engaging breakout sessions, all taught by more than 60 of the industry’s top entertainers and executives.

Panel discussions ranged from The Business/Girl Boss! and TV production: Creating Impactful Moments, to Craft/The Actors Speak, Film Producers/The Driving Force, to TV/How it Works, and much more.

An added advantage was the fact that audience members not only were able to ask panel members questions, but panel members made themselves available to attendees, when the panel discussion ended. The event also featured priceless one-on-one conversations with top performers, and those behind the camera.

Master classes such as Faith, Love and Success hosted by DeVon Franklin and Meagan Good were also held. Their focus was on marriage, family and working in Hollywood while remaining loyal, and loving. Once again the audience was able to interact with the participants.

The master class, “In Conversation with Suzanne De Passe,” also drew a big crowd. De Passe has worked in every aspect of entertainment with the world’s biggest stars such as Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. She started her own production company and produced such award-winning TV programming as “Lonesome Dove,” and she shows no signs of stopping.  She gave sound advice to the audience, and most inspiring of all, at age 70 she is still going strong working on a new production for television focused on the world of music.

The Merge Summit also featured entertainment such as a comedy show “Church of Laughs Live” and a concert the Free-Phyer Xperience.  A special screening of “Birth of a Nation” the story of Nat Turner’s slave revolt, starring Nate Parker was also held at the Merge Summit.  Parker who is not only the star, but screenwriter, producer, and director embraced the opportunity to speak before his peers.  In a previous article, I covered the incident where he was acquitted of sexually assaulting a young woman, who eventually committed suicide years after the incident.

The Merge Summit was the first “Birth of a Nation” event that Parker attended since the controversy began. According to The Hollywood Reporter, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs stood by the movie, encouraging people to see it and judge the film, not Parker.

The Merge Summit gives voice to those who have something to say, and celebrates the achievements of those who are making a difference in the world. Fittingly, the three-day summit kicked off with the Merge Awards Opening Gala hosted by actress/TV host Sherri Shepard. This year’s gala honored the outstanding accomplishments of senior vice president of Prudential Financial Dorinda Walker, ESSENCE magazine Editor-at-Large Mikki Taylor, founder and senior pastor of Living Word Christian Center (LWCC) Bill Winston and Emmy Award nominated actor Courtney B. Vance.

All in all, it was a blessed and magnificent three days. See you next year.

For pictures, videos and more information on The Merge Summit activities, visit a