Aids & Me: Hydeia Broadbent's Story

Alyson Mance | 12/8/2010, 6:28 p.m.
From the time she was seven years old, Hydeia Broadbent has been at...
Hydeia Broadbent Courtesy Photo

From the time she was seven years old, Hydeia Broadbent has been at the forefront of spreading awareness about the impact of HIV & AIDS. In 1996, her infamous statement at the Republican Convention-- "I am the future and I have AIDS" -- catapulted her and the reality of the disease to national acclaim. Infected from birth by her crack-addicted mother, Broadbent, who was adopted by foster parents Patricia and Loren Broadbent, a bi-racial couple, Broadbent remembers when doctors didn't believe she would live past the age of 10.

Now 26 years old and living with AIDS, Broadbent shares with Blackvoices.com the truth about the disease and why the Black community should be more outraged at its growing status in the U.S. and across the globe. As told by Alyson Mance:

When I was younger, there was so much information on HIV/AIDS-fundraisers, events, and major television coverage. That's why I can't really blame young people. Because now that it's not an immediate death sentence, it's almost as if we only talk about it on December 1, which is great, but why do we not hear about it on December 2?

Today everyone's so complacent, probably because we have medicines that prolong life and [those infected] are not dying at an alarming rate. Unlike during the 1980s, I can have a child without passing on HIV to my offspring or to my partner.

But we cannot say "I don't want to use a condom because I look at you or Magic Johnson and I can just pop a pill and be okay."

Every nine and a half minutes, another person is being infected with HIV. AIDS doesn't discriminate by any means. Unlike people-it does not care how much money you have or what color you are. All it takes is one time or you just not being aware of your partner's status, and it can affect you.

I was infected by my biological mother. My adopted mother became an advocate about the disease and would take me with her to speak about it. Then she let me speak for myself. When I started speaking, people were definitely afraid. I think times have changed and more people do come out and they do speak about it, but there are people who are still living in secrecy because in their communities, in their rural areas, people are still ignorant.

The True Cost of AIDS

Right now I'm covered by state insurance, but that is a struggle in itself because now I'm going to the state to say why I need health insurance; why I need monthly benefits and trying to prove to them that I still have HIV, still proving that I have AIDS and other side effects.

[Easily] I can go in the hospital anytime and that keeps me from working. But, if I make too much money from my speaking [engagements], I can get kicked off my insurance. So I always have to walk that gray line.

State insurance will help cover all my expenses, but it depends on what state you live in. Some people can get Medicaid or Medicare and there is also Ryan White funding, which helps provide assisted living to people with AIDS. Every state is different. If I was able to do everything myself, financially, I would love to not depend on the government for anything!

Taxpayers have to understand that you're paying for these [HIV/AIDS] programs that provide maybe insurance or medicine, so they should want more education in schools, to young people, so if somebody does become infected with HIV, they're not footing the bill for their care.

The Stigma is Deep

A lot of Black people don't talk about HIV. We care about what people think about us, and there's still a huge stigma associated with the disease.

They're afraid that they can lose their homes, or they're just afraid of people's reactions. We're such a desensitized generation now that I kind of understand that people just don't care - they just say whatever comes off the tip of their tongue whether it hurts people's feelings or not.

African Americans make up 50 percent of all new HIV diagnoses, yet we're not outraged; nobody's saying or doing anything about it.

We feel like if we say something, people are going to think we're gay, infected, or sleeping around. I've known African-American adults who worked in the HIV/AIDS field, became infected, and no one knew until after they'd already passed away.

I've been very blessed, I haven't had any real ignorant responses, but I don't know, people sometimes say crazy stuff and you just correct it because all you can do is give them the information. My mom taught me there's two types of people in the world: the stupid person and the ignorant person.

You can educate the ignorant one but the stupid person...you just gotta let be a stupid person. So I don't stress it. If I tell you the facts and you still believe what you believe, that's you, but I tried.

Personally, I don't care what anybody thinks about me. I talk about it in barber shops, the beauty salon, wherever - people need to know. I have a lot of different types of events I speak at - some are high school, colleges, youth events, women's forums, but basically my one message to everybody is that it can happen to you.

I suffered from severe depression and low self-esteem. I had no plan for my future. I think I was just tired. I was just tired of the situation. I was tired of being mad, I was tired of the bad relationships in my life with my [my adoptive] mother, low self-esteem with guys, and I just wanted something different.

Those issues stemming with my mom were just negative and toxic and went to other relationships so I started addressing them one by one, going to church and praying, and then I went to therapy and I learned to deal with my mom at a distance, and once you start dealing with your mind and you come to a better place in your life, and you know your self-worth then relationships with guys kind of follow.

And now, overcoming those obstacles, I really feel like I'm going to be doing more with young women about self-esteem issues and self-respect; I'm planning on opening my own foundation, a center in my old neighborhood that promotes HIV awareness. But also promotes self-esteem and just different aspects for young women to let them know there's more to life.

I'm going back to school in 2011, hopefully I can make it back to school, but the future? I know that there is a future, because when I was 20, I didn't think about what I would be doing at 26. So, now I'm spending time playing catch up, but I'm excited about the future.

As a child born with HIV, you go through a phase where people can tell you you're going to be okay, that you're going to make it, that you're going to date, but when you're living it, it's a different story.

My little sister moved in with me, and what keeps me going is making sure that she is mentally and spiritually healthy enough to deal with living with AIDS, too.

She has self-doubt about her future, and I try to live each day positively and let her know that it's going to be okay. She sees me every day, and that's my inspiration to keep fighting for her and other boys and girls like her - I can show them that I've been there, I've done that, I'm from the first generation of kids born with HIV, and I'm okay.

For more information about Hydeia Broadbent, go to www.hydeiabroadbent.com.