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Hydeia Broadbent, a prominent HIV/AIDS activist, dies at 39

Hydeia Broadbent attends the Los Angeles premiere of Apple's "They Call Me Magic" at Regency Village Theatre on April 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Leon Bennett
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Hydeia Broadbent attends the Los Angeles premiere of Apple's "They Call Me Magic" at Regency Village Theatre on April 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Updated February 23, 2024 at 2:59 PM ET

Hydeia Broadbent, known for raising awareness to lessen the stigma around HIV/AIDS from a young age, has died at 39 years old. She was one of the faces of children with AIDS in America, especially within the African American community.

Her father, Loren Broadbent, confirmed her unexpected passing in a message posted to Facebook on Tuesday. He told NPR that he still does not know the cause of death.

"With great sadness, I must inform you all that our beloved friend, mentor and daughter Hydeia, passed away today after living with Aids since birth," he said in the social media post. "Despite facing numerous challenges throughout her life, Hydeia remained determined to spread hope and positivity through education around Hiv/AIDS."

Hydeia was at a rehabilitation center called NeuroRestorative when she passed. By the time Loren arrived after getting the call, the coroner already had her in a body bag.

He was unable to say a proper goodbye.

"For some reason, I was not allowed to touch her. And I don't why," he said between tears. "The only thing I would have done is touch her forehead. But I wasn't allowed to do that."

At age 3, Hydeia was diagnosed as positive with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The disease was passed down by her mother, an IV drug user who left her at the hospital, and doctors predicted she wouldn't live past age 5.

But by the time Broadbent was 6 years old, she was already sharing her story publicly with the encouragement of her adoptive parents.

Over the years, she made various national appearances to raise awareness about HIV, including appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show and on a Nickelodeon special alongside Magic Johnson.

"I want people to know that we're just normal people," a tearful Broadbent said in the 1992 special.

In an interview with CNN 20 years later, Johnson said that the moment was pivotal for him.

"That very moment was both sad and inspirational," he told CNN. "It made me want to do more to bring awareness to the disease and educate people so that no one would have to feel the way she did that day."

In a social media post, Magic Johnson paid his tributes to Broadbent and reflected on that first meeting as well as her legacy.

"Thanks to Hydeia, millions were educated, stigmas were broken, and attitudes about HIV/AIDs were changed. We will miss her powerful voice in this world," he wrote.

In 1996, Broadbent would appear at the Republican National Convention and famously state, "I am the future, and I have AIDS."

During the 1999 Essence Awards at Madison Square Garden, Mariah Carey paid tribute to Broadbent and presented her an award.

"The work of this incredible child is now helping many to help longer, healthier lives," Carey said. "Hydeia, your life is a shining example of the unbridled power of the human spirit."

In 2002, her family published You Get Past the Tears: A Memoir of Love and Survival about their experiences.

She is also known for her work with the Let's Stop HIV Together campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and establishing the Hydeia L. Broadbent Foundation.

In a 2012interview with NPR, Broadbent spoke about how HIV affects everyone in some way or another. "You may have known someone or lost them, whether you're living with HIV, or whether you're a taxpayer, it affects us all."

Loren, her father, told NPR that he's been surprised and moved at the outpouring of support since Hydeia's passing. "I knew that she had made an impact. I truly had no idea to what extent until this happened."

When asked what Loren wants the world to remember most about Hydeia, he said her resilience.

"No matter what the situation was, she was able to turn it around and people respected her for it," Loren said.

He wants people to know that she was a fighter. "But fighting for the good and not for just the sake of fighting. And she was a good person. She was a hardworking person."

In a post written on her website in 2018, Hydeia marked her 34th birthday as someone in "the first generation of children born HIV positive."

"I am here, a force to be reckon with," she wrote. "These last few years have been extremely difficult; struggles with depression, which reached scary points. A depression so dark, I was not sure how I would see the beauty in life again. I was unsure of how I'd pull myself back up. I now have a new outlook, I'm able to now see the blessing's, and lesson's from my valley."

No funeral arrangements have been announced for Hydeia as yet but Loren noted that she didn't want "to be put in the ground" that she wanted to be cremated.

A GoFundMe organized by Loren can be found here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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