Merge Summit Recap


By Teryl Warren

From August 25 – 27, the luxurious Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles played host to the 8th Merge Summit. Founded by producer Dr. Holly Carter, and Co-Chaired by legendary casting director Robi Reed and prolific television executive Traci Blackwell, 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.

From the red carpet opening night Merge Summit Gala Awards hosted by celebrated actress/comedian/TV personality Sherri Shephard, the theme “Infinite Possibilities” set the tone for what lay ahead, and laid the foundation for a call to action. While celebrating the accomplishments of Honorees Emmy Award Nominated Actor Courtney B. Vance, Senior Vice President of Prudential Financial Dorinda Walker, senior pastor of Living Word Christian Center (LWCC) Dr. Bill Winston, and ESSENCE Magazine Editor At Large Mikki Taylor, attendees were inspired to pick up the mantle of service, pursue excellence of craft, and, above all else, keep the faith.

Sherri Shepherd Hosts the 2016 Merge Summit Awards Gala/Photo By Alisha Marie Simmons of Visionary Instinct

Over the next two days,  more than 60 of the most accomplished celebrities and executives in the entertainment industry participated in more than 20 informative, interactive panels designed to promote success in every area of life.

Professional achievement. Few arenas are more competitive than the entertainment industry, but panelists from GRAMMY-Nominated Producer Harmony Samuels to Derek “Fonzworth Bentley” Watkins advised their audience of emerging artists to never “sacrifice relationships in pursuit of an opportunity;” and industry icon Suzanne de Passe was quick to remind attendees that “Good manners never go out of style.” 

Co-Chair Robi Reed,Suzanne de Passe, Founder Holly Carter, Co-Chair Traci Blackwell - Merge Summit 2016

Additional panels featuring Korin Huggins (Head of Television, Will Packer Productions) and Shana C. Waterman from Vin Diesel’s One Race Productions, as well as writer/producers Charles Murray (Sons of Anarchy, Roots) and Terence Paul Winter (Castle, All of Us) provided keen insight into the world of television, while a panel featuring Debra Martin Chase (Princess Diaries, Sparkle), Lori McCreary (Madam Secretary, Invictus) and Ralph Winter (X-Men, Fantastic Four) offered a candid conversation about life as a film producer in Hollywood.

Personal fulfillment. While promoting professional development was certainly at the heart of the Merge Summit, an emphasis on personal well-being was equally evident. Presenting sponsor Walgreens offered on-site health screenings and wellness advice, while sponsor Shea Moisture provided lavish beauty and skincare product samples.

Merge Summit Sponsor Shea Moisture product display

Veteran actor Dondré Whitfield conducted a life-changing, one-man workshop about manhood declaring that, “Manhood is the covering that allows a woman to be her feminine self,” while author and speaker Sophia Nelson led attendees on an exploration of the Woman Code. One of the summit’s more poignant moments included a critical discussion on mental health facilitated by multi-Platinum GRAMMY Award Winning Singer/TV Personality Michelle Williams.  GRAMMY Award Winning Universal Motown Gospel Recording Artist Tasha Cobbs and actress Essence Atkins (Are We There Yet, Half & Half) shared intimate details about their personal struggles with depression, while Christian therapist Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis dispelled myths about mental illness and described the pathway to healing.

Preachers of LA stars Pastor Wayne and Myesha Chaney conducted an intimate fireside chat for singles about how to prepare for marriage, while high-profile power couples of faith like Tina Knowles-Lawson and Richard Lawson, and Empire stars Grace and Trai Byers joined a panel moderated by DeVon Franklin and Meagan Good Franklin that illustrated the importance of letting God be your matchmaker.

Throughout the event, in fact, producer, ordained pastor and President of Franklin Entertainment DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven) spoke wisdom and encouragement into the lives of the Merge Summit attendees. He repeatedly urged attendees to “Be intentional,” and during his Master Class, he preached from the book of Daniel – providing compelling examples of how to walk in integrity and practice your faith in both the entertainment industry and in life.

At a time when many are questioning their religious beliefs, and in a place, like Hollywood, where it often appears that there’s not enough opportunity go around, the Merge Summit provides an unparalleled source of support and enrichment.

2016 Merge Summit Actors Panel participants (l-r) Larenz Tate, Salli Richardson Whitfield,Cornelius Smith Jr., Co-Chair Robi Reed, Sinqua Walls, Brely Evans, John David Washington, Co-Chair Traci Blackwell/Photo By Alisha Marie Simmons of Visionary Instinct

In just its 8th year, the Merge Summit has delivered important, impactful discussions featuring some of the most respected and accomplished people in the entertainment industry. And in less than 3 days, the Merge Summit team not only inspired the next generation of talent to follow their dreams, but they equipped them with the knowledge and spiritual foundation they’ll need to succeed.

“I wanted people to believe that this year’s summit was designed with them in mind to achieve the infinite possibilities that awaited them. From the personal testimonies, the feedback and word of mouth, I think the mission was accomplished. I feel humbled as this was God’s doing and it’s marvelous in my sight,” says Dr. Holly Carter.

For more information on The Merge Summit, please visit, Twitter: @themergesummit, Merge Summit, and Instagram: @themergesummit.

2016 Merge Summit (l-r) Michelle Williams,Tasha Cobbs, Essence Atkins, Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis/Photo By Alisha Marie Simmons of Visionary Instinct

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