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Singer-Turned-Activist Mina Chang Now Faces the Biggest Challenge of Her Life

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

"You know what I'm excited about this year? Turning 30," Mina Chang says through her ever-beaming smile. "I just know my 30s will be the decade when I contribute the most and I'm ready to get started."

Chang has the vibe, and the résumé, of someone much older. Before becoming the CEO and president of Linking the World, she had a flourishing career as an international pop singer, recording albums in both English and Korean. She used that platform to spotlight humanitarian efforts. She split time touring her music and volunteering with relief efforts across the globe. Then, in 2010, she was just days away from re-signing with her label when an earthquake devastated Haiti.

"I called Linking the World and said, 'I can be there tomorrow,'" Chang says. "I took a huge chance stepping away from something I thought was safe and such a huge opportunity but I knew this is where my heart is."

She embraced this sea change, even calling the decision "selfish." Because through Chang's eyes, helping others is helping herself. The child of two Salvation Army officers, Chang's upbringing in inner-city Atlanta gave her insight into the significance of global education, and the dearth of it. After consolidating and relocating Linking the World's offices, bring them to Dallas from Pretoria, South Africa, and Seoul, South Korea, her next move as CEO was to lead the launch of the Global Social Leadership Program, an initiative that connects American students with kids their age in impoverished countries.

"This program helps our students to see what life is like around the world. They get to see that for some kids, school is a privilege," Chang says. "I want my daughter to grow up in a world where her classmates don't take school for granted. Where she doesn't take school for granted."

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If Chang is one to describe her work as "selfish," it won't come as a surprise that when she was diagnosed with brain cancer last May, her first thought was, "This is inconvenient."

"Obviously, I was scared and I still am," she says, "But one of my biggest fears was losing the momentum we were building at work."

She's been undergoing chemotherapy for almost a year, and while she acknowledges the consistent struggle, she says it's her job that keeps her grounded. At the end of last year, she was one of the first responders in the Philippines, a trip she didn't tell her doctors about.

"My work has given me such a perspective and it's taught me to walk through a period of my life," Chang says. "When you're in the field you're stripped of who you are. You're just existing together in that moment. It's not about your clothes, or your image, it's about what you're giving. This year is just one season on my journey." Lauren Smart

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