Ronald Merritt turned his life around from drugs and gangs in the streets of Jamaica, Queens, and now has his sights set on becoming a film director. The 23-year-old has been a member of the anti-violence organization LIFE (Love Ignites Freedom through Education) Camp Inc. for five years and wants to change the world.

Born and raised in South Jamaica, Queens, Merritt said life in his neighborhood in the projects was a far cry from the life he leads today. Like most boys during his childhood, a life of money and drugs was a primary goal.

“It was hard growing up,” he said. “I grew up when the drug game was at it’s best, but it was dying down. The way to get money was by selling drugs and that’s all I saw.”

Merritt’s father was in an out of jail because of his own battles with drugs. But Merritt said it was his harsh lifestyle that made him the person he is today.

At the age of 13, he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, to stay with family members to detour him from doing down the wrong path. He spent two years in the place he refers to as “paradise.”

While in the Aloha State, Merritt went to a local community center where he was mentored by a man he would play pool with. Soon, Merritt began counseling other youngsters, giving them advice, and also picked up DJing.

“It opened my eyes to something different. When I was in the projects, I knew nothing about this,” he said.

When he was 15, Merritt moved back to New York. To his dismay, Merritt came back to an environment that had little change. The only difference was the people he grew up with had become the drug dealers they had hoped to be.

With all of the negative aspects around him, Merritt said that he was forced to make a choice.

“It was like there were three bricks and I was in the middle,” he said. “I didn’t know whether to get on the good brick or the bad brick.”

Merritt decided at the time to go back to the bad way. Money and selling drugs became a top priority again. He also began participating in neighborhood fights with gangs along with his peers.

But things caught up with him in 2003 when, during a big fight on Jamaica Avenue, his best friend was stabbed to death.

“I first couldn’t get it out but I saw everyone’s emotions,” he said. “That was the first person close to me to die. It hurt me like I lost something in my body.”

Days before laying his friend to rest, he met Erica Ford, founder of LIFE Camp Inc. Speaking at his friend’s funeral, Merritt said Ford’s speech had an impact on him. She discussed how there were few male role models in the neighborhood to teach youth how to do the right thing.

He said, “I remember the last thing she said was ‘if you’re tired of living this life, then come talk to me. I’m always going to be here.’ That’s what I needed. Someone I could talk to.”

Soon Merritt began going to Ford’s meetings for LIFE Camp at York College. He admits he was hesitant about joining at first because of what his friends would think but said deep down inside he wanted to change.

Ford met with Merritt one-on-one and he soon appeared on flyers for parties that LIFE Camp threw. Seeing himself on the ad and as a face for the organization urged him to join LIFE Camp and leave behind his dangerous lifestyle.

While in LIFE Camp, he discovered a new talent of for filmmaking by documenting the organization’s critical moments. He’s branched out to shooting music videos for local artists and working with Ja Rule, Lil Wayne, David Banner and Russell Simmons.

In LIFE Camp, he also speaks to kids in schools about the dangers of being involved in drugs and gangs.

“I feel like I was put on this earth to do something big,” he said. “I found my calling through filming and counseling.”

Merritt’s work can be found on LIFE Camp’s website at www.lifecampinc.org under the LIFE.TV link.