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Meet Linda Cheung of Before It’s Too Late in Little Haiti

Today we’d like to introduce you to Linda Cheung.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Linda. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I became very concerned about climate change about five years ago. At the time, I was working in marketing and finance in New York. I realized that I didn’t find meaning in my work, and in fact, I felt that I was part of the problem of driving consumerism and the infinite financial growth mentality. So, I decided to switch life course and apply myself to solving a real problem for the world. Then, I began to learn about climate change, and I was shocked by how big the crisis is. Yet most people (and I was one of them) are unaware, and our leaders aren’t acting to address it.

At first, I decided to help the cause the way I knew how – through business and finance. So, I entered the renewable energy business development industry, but it didn’t take me long to realize a second epiphany. I would never be able to make real change to address climate change while working within the corporate system, which is led by incremental thinking and profit incentives. So, I made a 180-degree pivot into the arts, public engagement, and cultural change. I believe that culture is the most important and difficult leverage point to push in order to catalyze fundamental and radical shifts across all our systems. This is why I started Before It’s Too Late three years ago, a nonprofit that uses art and technology to awaken and inspire people to take action on climate change.

Has it been a smooth road?
It was much tougher at the beginning of my journey. I was starting from scratch in the new fields of art, VR/AR tech, and community engagement, so I had to learn everything. I also moved to Miami as a newcomer, because I believed that this would be the place to make the greatest impact on climate change in the US. Of course, the classic entrepreneur’s story includes a period of great financial struggle. Two years ago, when I graduated from MIT Sloan, I made the “brave” choice of turning down a six-figure post-MBA job to move to Miami to build my nonprofit with no initial funding. I also had over $200k in student loans! I had to defer my loan payments for the first year, and I watched in fear as my interest capitalized onto my principal (a terrible financial trap that could totally spin out of control). Thankfully, I kept my expenses super low and with hard work started winning jobs. I have even been able to make the payments on my crazy student loans for the past almost-year!

Another major struggle that I overcame was learning to change my perspective on my mission. I kept feeling disappointed in the lack of change I could make on the ginormous issue of climate change and feeling like what I did was pointless. Then, I remembered that DUH! This is the case since I chose one of the most difficult problems to work on. Plus I realized: this is not just my fight nor the fight of the few climate activists. It’s all of our fight and responsibility, and we all have to do our part in order for us to succeed. In fact, that’s what makes this issue so special. It demands that we work together, or we collectively lose.

There’s this notion that “Hope is a choice.” We can’t know for sure what the future will be and whether we will succeed, but we still must put forward our best effort to protect what’s right.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Before It’s Too Late – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I founded Before It’s Too Late (BITL), which is a Miami-based nonprofit that creates art, technology and education projects to inspire the public to become better stewards for our planet. We are mostly known for our augmented reality murals about the environment – these are interactive murals that come to life through your phone. You can find our first mural “What Future Do You Choose for Miami?” at 1800 N Miami Ave, and the second mural “Anthropocene Extinction” at 299 NW 25th Street. We are currently developing our third AR mural at the City of North Miami Liberty Gardens Park. I am also proud of our 7 Day Earth Challenge, which enrolled over 4,000 people including K-12 classrooms this year in a one week challenge to take action to fight climate change. We are partnering with other local nonprofits like Dream In Green to grow this program to more schools and counties next year.

In addition to running BITL, I am a new artist that has started doing my own murals and paintings on commission. And I work part-time for Climate Interactive, which is a leading climate and energy modeling think tank that is closely partnered with MIT with a mission to create and share powerful data simulation tools that show people different climate futures and what it would really take to limit warming to less than 2-degrees Celsius and as close to 1.5 degrees, per our Paris climate agreement. What sets me apart is bringing the science and art worlds together to fight climate change through cultural change.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
My favorite thing about Miami is the lively and diverse melting pot of Latin and Caribbean cultures and immigrants. I like the artist scene here. I like that my out-of-town friends like to visit me in Miami. It’s a cliche, but I also enjoy living by the ocean and the weather (except for the sweltering summer). I try to go to the ocean at least once a week, even though lately I don’t go in the water because of the various sources of pollution – sand flea harboring seaweed beds, red tide, sewage backwash, and the new flesh-eating bacteria threat – we need to clean up our water or lose it!

In addition to climate change and environmental stewardship, the top area of opportunity for Miami is fixing how deep the inequality divide is. It is the tale of two cities – (a) the very wealthy class and vacationers who conveniently see past (b) over 60% of the rest of Miamians who live in poverty. I find this place to be very ironic. However, what people outside of Miami don’t see is that there are many gems in the people and local culture here – which is why I have been inspired to build my home, work and community here.

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Before It’s Too Late

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