Hydeia Broadbent, as tiny as a finger snap, could barely see over the podium. But the little girl had a big message. “How many of you know someone with AIDS?” she asked the audience at one of her early speeches. “Guess what, you do know someone with AIDS. And you can be a friend to someone that has AIDS. If you know somebody in your family who has AIDS, don’t act like it’s the end of the world, because it’s not.”
Hydeia, who has never known life without HIV, began her public speaking career at age six, joining her mother at conferences, schools, churches and community events. At age 17, she is one of the youngest AIDS activists in the country, and certainly one of the most prominent and renowned. A spokesperson for her own national organization—the Hydeia L. Broadbent Foundation in Los Angeles—Hydeia has been celebrated for her courage and her outspokenness. She has been featured in a number of national publications, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and received the prestigious Essence Award, presented to her by Mariah Carey in 1999.
Hydeia, who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, draws strength and courage from her family, particularly her mother, Patricia. Born drug addicted and infected with HIV, Hydeia was abandoned by her birth mother. When she was six weeks old, Patricia and Loren Broadbent agreed to take her in for a short while, until she could be placed in a permanent home. Soon, though, the couple decided to adopt the bright-eyed infant whom they had grown to love.
As the baby grew into a little girl, the Broadbents began to sense that something was wrong. Eventually, Hydeia tested positive for HIV. “When I was diagnosed at three, they told me I wouldn’t live to five,” says Hydeia, who is a sophomore in high school. “Now I’m going on 18.”
In and out of hospitals since she was a toddler, Hydeia is now thriving, thanks to plenty of love and a lot of medication. She takes a number of different medications every day, but with little complaint. “I grew up taking pills, so I am used to them,” she shrugs. “I know that if I want to do things that other kids do, like spend the night at a friend’s house or do something at school, I have to remember to take the pills. So I do.” Hydeia, who gets good grades and likes English class best, has a bright future ahead of her, though she hasn’t quite pinpointed what she’d like to do when she grows up. “I will probably do something in entertainment or PR,” she says. “Or I may go to culinary school, since I like to cook so much.” Her specialties, she says, are lasagna and “anything chicken.”
Whatever she decides to do, her message about AIDS prevention is as strong and direct as she is: “Our Black community is dying of AIDS more than any other community, and we need to stop it,” she says. “It needs to stop right now. I don’t want kids to go through what I went through and that’s why I do what I do.” In the spring of 2002, Hydeia’s message reached its widest audience to date. The HOPE Telethon, which she helped produce through her foundation, aired in the United States and Africa. The four-hour, celebrity-studded event strove to motivate viewers to take responsibility for their health and get tested for HIV. “I hope people will not only get tested but will change their behavior—and not for a week or six months, but for the rest of their lives,” she says. “People have to think about what they do before they do it. Life is full of choices and AIDS is a choice disease.”