Hydeia Broadbent: Victim of a Broken System

Hydeia Broadbent. Courtesy Facebook.

Longtime HIV/AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent, 39, passed away at home with her family on Feb. 20. Broadbent took the national stage as the first black child to speak publicly about being born with and living with HIV. Despite her contribution to HIV/AIDS advocacy everywhere, Broadbent was failed by the system she so adamantly attempted to build.

Broadbent was born to a mother with HIV who abandoned her at a hospital in Las Vegas. She was adopted by the Broadbent family, and was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at the age of 3. At the age of 7, she shared her story on a Nickelodeon special with Magic Johnson as well as on Oprah, where she captured the hearts of millions across the United States.

She went on from there to be featured in documentaries and as a spokesperson for many organizations, including the Magic Johnson Foundation. In 1996, she spoke at the Republican National Convention, bringing her story to the political stage. Broadbent was a leader in the movement to end the HIV epidemic in the United States, which is why her passing is so tragic.

Since her passing, Broadbent has been celebrated for her contributions to the HIV/AIDS movement, focusing on that video of the little girl on Oprah and the time with Magic Johnson on Nickelodeon. But Broadbent was more than just those moments, and as her life progressed, she fell out of the public sphere.

In July 2023, Broadbent spoke at an event in West Palm Beach, hosted by the Palm Beach County Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative. During this event, a sick, and frail Broadbent shared her tragic current circumstance — she was homeless and not receiving services. The payment from the speaking engagement was going to get her shelter. Palm Beach County Community Services attempted to connect Broadbent with services in Las Vegas, but their ability to help was limited. Policy and process created too many barriers.

Broadbent, a nationally celebrated HIV/AIDS activist, spent the last years of her life unhoused and sick. The very services she advocated for were not accessible to her. The people who once celebrated her did not check in — did not support her. As people speak of her legacy, they ignore her reality. Were HIV services, HIV stigma, and the healthcare landscape different, Broadbent would still be with us. She would still be speaking out for people with HIV.

As a child, Broadbent proudly stated, “I am the next doctor. I am the next lawyer. I am the next Maya Angelou. I might even be the first woman president. I am the future, and I have AIDS.” This sentiment, however, was blocked not by Broadbent’s potential or ability, but by the society that misused her legacy. They co-opted her message while ignoring her life.

We honor Broadbent not by sharing her experience as a child, but by talking about her reality as an adult. Broadbent’s HIV diagnosis came with a host of opportunistic medical issues and challenges. It was not all optimism and rainbows, and people living with HIV deserve more than that.


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