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A summit on faith and entertainment

Gail Choice | 8/31/2011, 5 p.m.

The Merge Summit 2011, Integrating Faith and Entertainment, held its third annual event this month in downtown Los Angeles at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. Surrounded by large pictures of Hollywood moguls from days gone by, hundreds of African Americans walked the historic hallways, greeting one another, and many smiling from ear to ear. They were literally filled with the spirit because the Merge Summit forums and events were filled with testimonies, and hard truths, and stories about how prayer and faith can pull an individual through.

The Merge Summit is the brainchild of Holly Carter, president & CEO, Releve' Entertainment and founder and chair of the Merge Summit. Carter writes in the Merge brochure that five years ago the Lord gave her the vision for this event as a way to provide opportunity and access to Christian talent who had a heart for impacting the Kingdom of God through the media. Carter joined forces with another powerful African American woman in the television and film industry, Robi Reed, vice president for talent and casting, original programming, BET. For the last three years the two of them have brought together some of the most powerful African Americans, as well as Whites to share their testimonies, and information that would positively shape the futures of all in attendance.

Over a three-day period participants were privileged to not only worship as a group but attend classes that covered every important facet of Hollywood in front of and behind the camera and the music world as well. In each of the classes industry leaders shared information on how Hollywood works, how to be prepared, what to know, and sometimes what you can expect and most importantly how to overcome.

What makes the Merge Summit stand out is the honesty and heartfelt emotions the speakers shared with the audiences. They didn't gloss over their hard times, wondering was God still there, or some of their darkest moments. Most in the audience could relate, so when it came time to discuss how their lives were turned around, through faith and the Word of God, people were all ears, and walked out inspired, filled with hope. And the access to the speakers was phenomenal, business cards were flying.

Television and film industry executives representing major studios and production companies shared valuable information from personal presentations to the do's and don'ts of working in Hollywood.

Believe it or not African American Christian beliefs have always had a place in Hollywood, be it on the big or small screen, or at awards ceremonies. The righteous ones always thank God first, as well they should.

The first Hollywood film by a major studio starring an all-African American cast was King Vidor's 1929 film "Hallelujah!" The musical starred Daniel L. Haynes as a sharecropper-turned-preacher after he's cheated out of his money. Sixteen-year-old Nina Mae McKinney starred as the very seductive Chick, who despite her wayward ways falls for the sharecropper in this ill-fated love story.

In 2008, "Hallelujah!" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Hollywood is a tough town to work in, especially for those "of color." If there was any place on earth where folk would willingly sell their soul to the devil for fame and fortune, this is the place. But fortunately there are those individuals who maintain their faith and belief in God and have not only survived but thrived. And that's what the Merge Summit is all about.

To check out the Merge Summit and see those celebrities and industry leaders who participated, go to www.themergesummit.com. Hopefully, I will see you at the fourth annual Merge Summit, Integrating Faith & Entertainment.

Gail can be reached at hollywoodbychoice_gail@yahoo.com