Black History Month - An Advocate Since Birth

Hydeia Broadbent, a champion for young people living with HIV/AIDS

Hydeia Broadbent

As we celebrate Black History Month, we're honoring African-Americans who are taking part in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This week, we're meeting Hydeia Broadbent, an advocate for children and young people living with HIV. Born with HIV, Hydeia worked closely with Elizabeth Glaser and spoke out about her HIV status. Now 27, Hydeia continues to work for the rights and needs of people living with HIV. I recently spoke with her about her story and her message for young people.

1.) How did your personal experience influence your decision to become an advocate for people living with HIV?

As a child, I was allowed to be open about my status. My parents wanted me to know that AIDS was something that happened to me, but did not define who I was as a person. My parents knew that keeping my status a secret could do something to my self-esteem, and they didn’t want that to happen.  When I started to attend doctor’s appointments, I had the chance to meet other kids who were living with AIDS, but they were not open about their status. A lot of kids did not even tell their grandparents.   A lot of my friends were sad about the fact they had to hide, and I wanted to do something about it. That’s why I started speaking out.

2.) Why is it important to you to share your story?

I like sharing my story because I want to do my best to take away the stigma attached to the disease. I want to show people who are living with HIV/AIDS that they have nothing to be ashamed of, HIV/AIDS is something that happens to you, but it does not define who you are as a person.  I also like to share my story as a cautionary tale for people who are negative. For some reason, some people do not think life with AIDS is a big deal.  People think living with AIDS is simply taking a pill, but there is more to it. I feel it is my duty to inform people that this disease is preventable.

3.) What lessons have you learned as you’ve transitioned from pediatric care to being an adult living with HIV?

I had to learn how to be responsible for my own health. Before, I had my mom doing everything for me; but as an adult, I am responsible for checking up on my health and making sure everything is OK.  There is a lot that goes into making sure your medications are working and checking your (blood cell) counts.

4.) What have been the biggest challenges for you as a young person living with HIV?

Learning that some of my peers will always have negative opinions of the fact that I am a person living with AIDS. No matter how much I tried to educate them, they would never understand. I had to learn not to take things people may say or do personally when it came to my status. 

5.) Who are your heroes?

To start: Jesus, my younger sister Patricia, my best friend Jurnee Smollett, my mentor Kianga Palacio, Cynthia Davis, and Elizabeth Glaser.

6.) It’s been 20 years since your memorable exchange with Magic Johnson on NickNews. What would you say now to that little girl?

That you’re going to live, and you need to start planning out your life.

7.) The African-American community is bearing the brunt of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. – and black women make up 64 percent of African Americans newly infected in the U.S. How do you think activists can work to reverse this trend?

We need to try and engage our community, and take the stigma associated with the disease. We have to change the image of what someone with AIDS looks like that has been embedded in our minds.  We also have to start educating our youth, who are living in a world where they are greatly at risk for contracting HIV, but do not have information or knowledge about this disease. We have to talk to our kids and arm them with the knowledge on how to stay safe, and know that we are not encouraging them go out and have sex, but allowing them to be safe if they choose to have sex.

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.