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DC's connection to Black Hollywood

Did you know a local lawyer started the Tree of Life awards? It's a pre-Oscars tradition of recognizing Black achievements in Hollywood.
Credit: Devin Williams
Denzel Washington and Albert Nellum at Tree of Life Awards, also known as the "Black Oscars"

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The year was 1999 and back then I was a young student in Los Angeles with big dreams and no connections in Hollywood. 

Somehow I found myself volunteering for a pre-Oscars event I knew nothing about, but I was an eager teenager ready to show up and learn the ropes. 

I spent the day helping to decorate the room, hide A/V cables, and assisting with some light dusting and vacuuming. I must have done a good job because by the end of the set up I was invited to stay for dinner. 

As the guests arrived, I was in awe at who was walking through the door. There was Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. In walked Star Jones (who was at the height of her fame on The View back then) and Deroy Lindo and CCH Pounder.

There were a host of other A-list celebrities in attendance that evening, but those named are the few whom I remember meeting. 

Fast-forward nearly 20 years later and I am hosting Great Day Washington and doing some research on the Oscars for an upcoming interview on Black Hollywood when I come across an L.A. Times an article about the Tree of Life Awards ceremony. 

I immediately recognized it as the magical event that I had attended that felt like a family reunion of Black Hollywood's rich and famous. 

To my surprise, I learned that a DC lawyer named Albert Nellum was instrumental in the founding of the event. 

I found little about Mr. Nellum on the Internet, save for an obituary in The Washington Post and a touching tribute of his dazzling legacy written by his grandchild on what looked like a college blog. 

If I ever find out more about Mr. Nellum, I plan to do a story on him. If I ever come in contact with any of his family, I just want to thank them. 

In a very distant and star-aligned way, their grandfather and dad touched my life. He inspired me to pursue my dreams in the entertainment industry and he didn't even know it.

It's funny how life will move you in certain vibrations. For me, I've always vibrated high on movies and TV, love stories to be exact. This random reminder of that one mystical night I spent at the Tree of Life Awards was a gentle reminder of why I entered the business in the first place--for the love of it all. Thank you Albert Nellum of Washington, DC. May you rest in peace.

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