All Grown Up
BY Benjamin Ryan
November 18 2010 5:00 AM ET
“I think -- because of what she’s gone through at such a young age -- it caused her to mature quicker than most people would,” says Cynthia Davis, who advocates for HIV-related efforts as an assistant professor and program director in the department of family medicine at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. Davis has called on Broadbent to appear in speaking engagements since she was 13. “It’s because of that maturity, I think, that she’s so effective at what she does. She’s very, very honest, open, willing to share her life experiences. And young people tend to look up to her.”
In fact, Davis once ran a focus group with at-risk youths in the Los Angeles area in order to find out who they thought would be an inspirational face for an HIV campaign. To her surprise, they bypassed a certain hometown basketball star and named Hydeia Broadbent as their hero.
Today, Broadbent says her dreams include finishing her final two years of college and either going into HIV advocacy work full-time or perhaps using her honed communication skills for a career in public relations. A recent downturn in her health forced her to take some time off from her studies, she reveals, and from her lifelong commitment to speaking engagements. But by this past fall she was getting back into the swing of things with a college campus tour called R.A.P. on AIDS, and she is working on her memoirs.
“When I was younger there wasn’t an outlook that I would go to college,” she says. “There wasn’t hope that I would get married and have kids. Now that there is that hope, I’m very grateful for that!”
Indeed, Broadbent has been lucky. Stigma has rarely touched her directly. Incidents such as the time her kindergarten teacher sprayed her face with bleach after she sneezed have been few and far between, she says. Nevertheless, her high school sweetheart, Pernell, says he does have to be a buffer for her.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy” for dating her, the 24-year-old says. “They tell me I should leave her alone and not talk to her -- that there are other females out there. I’m like, ‘Yeah, there sure is, but it’s just who I love.’”
Going from living day to day to suddenly finding an uncertain future before her has proved a hard transition. While adults who lived with AIDS in the era before highly active antiretroviral therapy often maxed out their credit cards and cashed in life insurance policies -- only to later find themselves with the sudden gift of life but a mountain of debt -- Broadbent says she feels cheated that she had no money set aside from her many paid speaking engagements to help her pay for school or a car when she turned 18.
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