Twenty years ago, Hydeia Broadbent married one of her best friends. She was 9 years old.
Born with HIV and abandoned at a Las Vegas hospital in 1984, Broadbent was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS by age 3. So little was known about the virus in the 1980s, much less how to treat it in children as young as Broadbent, that doctors did not expect her to live past the age of 5—to die before she could grow up and have a real wedding. So members of her adoptive family and supporters held a "friends for life" ceremony, complete with a white bridal gown, for Broadbent and her friend, Tyler Small, who also had AIDS.
But Broadbent did grow up. Today, at age 29, she is one of the most recognizable HIV/AIDS activists in the world. The roots of her activism can be traced to 1993, when Broadbent appeared on a Nickelodeon special featuring pro basketball player Magic Johnson and children living with HIV/AIDS.
As tears rolled streamed down her chubby cheeks, the then- 7-year-old Broadbent told Johnson her wish for people with AIDS.
"I want people to know that we're just normal people," she said.
Her rigorous international travel, speaking schedule and television appearances notwithstanding, Broadbent has led an otherwise normal young-adult life.
Broadbent studied communications at the College of Southern Nevada and maintains healthy romantic relationships, which she talks about openly during her speeches, which often focus on making HIV/AIDS a larger part of national conversations about health care and social justice.
On Friday, Feb. 7, Broadbent joins Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba for a town-hall discussion about HIV/AIDS and civil rights.
Though trending downward, Mississippi continues to have one of the nation's highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. In 2011, Mississippi had the nation's seventh highest rate of HIV cases reported, 20.7 per 100,000 persons. The following year, Mississippi had 547 new HIV infections reported, a rate of 18.3 per 100,000 individuals.
The "AIDS is a Civil Rights Issue" town hall takes place at 6 p.m. at the Bennie G. Thompson Center at Tougaloo College (500 W. County Line Road; 601-342-0795). Radio host and HIV/AIDS activist Othor Cain will moderate the forum.