As part of our mission to advance the ideas of individual freedom, free enterprise, traditional values, and a strong national defense, Young America’s Foundation seeks to effectively prepare future parents, educators, and community leaders who will influence countless young Americans for years to come.
Gina Brown is a Young America’s Foundation alumna who exemplifies this mission. A graduate of YAF’s high school programs, Gina grew up in Seattle, Washington, and first got involved with YAF when she attended the Foundation’s inaugural high school conference in Washington, D.C., in 1996. She made the decision to participate after her father learned about the event through YAF alumnus and National Journalism Center Board of Governors member Kirby Wilbur’s conservative talk radio show.
Inspired by her experience, Gina has not only continued to participate in YAF programs herself, but she has also actively recruited family and friends. Recently, she took advantage of the opportunity she had always hoped for: sending one of her own children to a YAF program.
Zachary Brown, Gina’s oldest son and a junior at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, attended YAF’s inaugural student seminar—American Exceptionalism: The Education of Ronald Reagan & the Enduring Promise of the American Dream—at the newly- acquired Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon, Illinois. Over the course of two days spent with like-minded young people, Zachary gained inspiration from the kinds of leaders and ideas that influenced his mother. Following his experience, Zachary is eager to establish a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at his school and share his conservative values with fellow students.
Young America’s Foundation is pleased to present this interview with Gina and Zachary Brown, who share what YAF means to them and their family.
Libertas: Gina, you have been involved with YAF for more than 25 years. What first attracted you to our organization?
Gina: My dad listened to Kirby Wilbur’s conservative talk radio show in Seattle, where we lived in the 1990s. It was on one of these shows that Kirby discussed an upcoming Young America’s Foundation conference for high school students in Washington, D.C. It was a long trip from Seattle to Washington, but we were incredibly blessed. Kirby’s show generously offered to pay my conference fee, so my family only had to cover the cost of transportation—which was affordable because my dad worked for the airlines.
My mom now says, “I can’t believe we sent you across the country for four days!” But I enjoyed that first experience so much that I brought my sister and then a friend to future conferences. Now here we are sending our own children!
Libertas: Your son, Zachary, recently attended YAF’s inaugural student seminar at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon, Illinois. How did you feel about sending Zachary away for the weekend?
Gina: I felt comfortable because I remembered my own YAF experience. Students spent four nights at the conferences I attended, and we had a great experience while behaving ourselves.
I have to admit that I was a little nervous dropping Zachary off at his first YAF program because I didn’t know if he knew exactly what he was getting into. But when we picked up Zachary and his friend, who joined him at the seminar, it was obvious they had enjoyed their time because they talked about the weekend nonstop on the car ride home.
Libertas: Zachary, after attending your first YAF student program, can you share what you enjoyed most about the experience?
Zachary: I liked the whole weekend, but the best aspects of the seminar were visiting the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan and meeting like-minded teenagers from around the country. Seeing how Reagan grew up in a regular town and in a regular house was not something I had expected.
Libertas: What was your biggest takeaway from the seminar?
Zachary: The biggest takeaway for me is how pervasive corruption is across America. It’s close to a breaking point, and we need to find our voice as conservatives. We need to stand up for what is right. We need to stand up for our freedoms. I hope that my generation will be able to help roll back the corruption in government.
Libertas: Gina, it seems Zachary has already gained some valuable insights from his first YAF experience. What are the lessons you learned from your time with the Foundation that you hope Zachary will absorb?
Gina: YAF opened my eyes to two key things—first, I wasn’t alone in my beliefs, and second, we have to watch for bias every day. At my first YAF conference, I remember meeting a student from Omaha. I had never before met anyone from Nebraska! There were also three girls from Fort Lauderdale and two boys from New York. We came from all over the country, and we believed in the same ideas. I found that to be hugely helpful. I thought to myself, “I can hold my conservative beliefs and be successful. They’re not outdated or uncool.” I also remember hearing a conference talk by Dr. Burt Folsom about textbook bias. I discovered for the first time that we are regularly bombarded with bias. His message stuck with me.
Having grown up, married, and built a family with five children, I feel better equipped because of Dr. Folsom. Even in conversations with my family and friends today about what’s going on around the country, I always say, “This is what we just heard. Let’s take that apart and ask who is providing the information, and what kind of bias might they have?”
Libertas: those are certainly important lessons that we strive to teach all YAF students. Zachary, what surprised you at YAF’s seminar?
Zachary: I was surprised to learn how widespread the liberal influence is at so many schools across the country. You can’t really find any school—a university, high school, or even elementary school—that hasn’t been tainted by this influence.
Libertas: Gina, can you share any other memorable YAF experiences from your time as a student?
Gina: I got to meet Alan Keyes, who spoke at one of the programs I attended! I’ve told people for years that I voted for a black man for President, and it wasn’t Barack Obama. Meeting conservative leaders at YAF conferences was inspiring and gave me the motivation to think, “I can do this. These are great people, and we can emulate them and follow in their footsteps.”
Libertas: Zachary, who was your favorite speaker at your first YAF program?
Zachary: Congressman Tom Tancredo. I didn’t know what to expect, but he was entertaining and funny, particularly when discussing how he became a public official. I also enjoyed meeting Dr. Burt Folsom. It’s cool to know that he spoke at conferences my mom attended as a student, and now I’m hearing from him.
Libertas: Gina, as you think back to your early experience with YAF, what influence would you say the Foundation had on you?
Gina: My four years of attending YAF conferences made such a lasting impression on me. I knew that I wanted to give my children the opportunity to meet other like-minded young people from around the country. As a result, I hoped that I would be able to send my kids to YAF programs as soon as they were old enough. Zachary could tell you how many times he has heard me talk about YAF. I still have my notebook from one of my conferences! But I would say that in the last couple of years—since Zachary entered high school—I’ve shared more about the organization than ever before because I know how important it is to get young people involved early.
Libertas: Zachary, we see how YAF has influenced your mom. What do you hope to accomplish with Young America’s Foundation?
Zachary: One of the main components of YAF’s seminar was learning how to become an activist. There is not yet a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at my school, and I now want to start one and help other students gather and organize with like- minded peers.
Libertas: As you look further ahead, what professional path would you like to pursue?
Zachary: My two biggest aspirations are music and the military. Music is my favorite hobby, and it’s a way for me to be engaged. Additionally, our family has a long military history. Both of my grandfathers served, and my uncle currently serves in the U.S. Coast Guard. I would be honored to carry on the tradition of fighting for our freedoms.
Libertas: Finally, Gina, what would you tell parents who are considering sending their children to a YAF program?
Gina: My faith is my greatest foundation. But Young America’s Foundation is second in line. We know that the education system doesn’t allow us to prioritize our faith. It also doesn’t support our conservative values. Knowing what I know about Young America’s Foundation, I would say that YAF will provide your children with the lessons they aren’t getting anywhere else—even things as basic as the fact that there were more Founding Fathers than just the two often mentioned in history textbooks! Among other things, your children will learn that history is interesting and gain an appreciation for the huge sacrifices our forefathers made.