Linda Zhang was a determined young woman with a passion to save the world. She lived the statement – “be that one person” – knowing the power of one’s voice and actions to enact environmental change. Through her zero waste lifestyle, her influential writing, and insightful YouTube videos on sustainability, Linda inspired others to join her in protecting and preserving the planet for future generations.
Unable to shoulder the responsibility of saving the world, Linda, at age 18, ended her life last year, but her advocacy and legacy endures through the nonprofit Linda J. Zhang Memorial Foundation, created by her parents, Mingbao Zhang and Li Tang. Its mission is to help protect the environment and fight the climate crisis by raising awareness and promoting positive actions and behaviors. “Linda had a heart of pure gold. She cared about people, children, animals. When she saw environmental challenges she felt the urgency to act,” said Zhang. “We created the Foundation to spread the work Linda began and fulfill her wish that society – all of humanity – face the climate crisis and help make the world better by changing how we live and reducing our carbon footprint.”
Linda was devoted to her beliefs, shopping at thrift stores, teaching her parents how to live more environmentally-friendly, attending environment-related forums, and spearheading a campaign at Horace Greeley to replace bottled water with locally sourced water. To bring greater attention to her beliefs and the vital issues plaguing the world, Linda scheduled a letter to be mailed to the New York Times on the day after her death, explaining her desolate feelings, writing, ‘despite what we all know, the world still considers environmentalism to be something noble, something additional, rather than something necessary.’
Linda was heartsick and saddened that people failed to see what was happening in the world and felt she did not want to be part of it “reciting poetry even as the world is burning.’ Linda’s death placed the spotlight on how everyone needs to step up and have more empathy. “Everybody is busy with their daily lives, but our daughter was a thinker, a writer. She was way ahead of us in seeing what was happening. She was proud of her work with the environment and we were really proud of her,” said Zhang.
To strengthen the connection between Linda’s talent in writing and commitment to the environment, the first inaugural Linda J. Zhang Award for Writing Achievement was presented this summer to Horace Greeley High School senior Erica Dunne. “Linda was very creative, and we encouraged and supported her writing,” said her parents, noting Linda was a gifted writer, an honor student at the Hoff Barthelson music school, and was the recipient of numerous honors and regional and national awards for her writing, including a Scholastic gold medal in poetry in 2018 and a Claudia Ann Seaman Award for Fiction in 2019.
In addition, Linda was an alumnus of several major national workshops for young writers including the highly selective and prestigious Iowa Young Writers Studio and the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop. In addition, the Foundation also worked with Horace Greeley to set up the Linda J. Zhang Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Award that is given annually to two graduating seniors in recognition of their outstanding leadership in environmental and sustainability issues and to encourage other students.
As the school year begins, Linda’s parents recall how their daughter loved school and enjoyed working at the Chappaqua Library as a student volunteer and later as a paid page until graduation, and teaching piano at a local charity music program for less-privileged children. To honor Linda, the library will be creating Linda’s Corner. “It will be a special place to encourage more young people to write, think about the environment, and use their talents to advocate like Linda did,” said Tang.
To appreciate her Asian-American heritage, in 2019 Linda traveled to a remote area in China to teach English, art, and music to elementary school children, she taught herself Korean language, and she appreciated Chinese art. “Linda was a curious person and always wanted to be part of bigger things. When she was little, every week we went to the library, and she always brought bags of books home. She always carried a notebook and put down her thoughts about people and places,” said Tang.
Through the Foundation Linda’s parents hope to mobilize others to do their part to save the world. “Before she brought these concepts to us, we didn’t realize it, but now we stop and think and you start making the change and it becomes part of your routine. By doing it we are reducing waste,” said Zhang. Linda asked others to respect the planet, be kind, and live a life of good intentions so future generations can thrive.
“Young people’s voices are strong. Linda cared passionately for the world and she could have done so much. We need to keep conversation about climate change alive and mobilize more people to spread the word,” said Zhang. “Linda wanted to do something meaningful and was always helping and advocating everywhere she could,” added Tang. “We really, really miss her.”
Chappaqua Acts for the Environment
A group inspired by Linda, Chappaqua Acts for the Environment was founded by Chappaqua residents Susan Rubin, Tara Walsh, and Amy Barone. According to its website, its mission is to be emotionally supportive while delivering honest climate change information and education based on scientific facts and projections, and to provide survival skills through training and tools to the Chappaqua community. “So many people were devastated by Linda’s death and want to do something,” said Li Tang who does not want her daughter to have died in vain. Zhang agrees. “It’s bittersweet. This group will carry on her legacy. People are encouraged by her and will carry on what she started.”