“I am the future and I have AIDS.”

These words, spoken by an 12-year-old Hydeia Broadbent at the 1996 Republican National Convention, propelled changing perceptions about her once-fatal disease. Now 26 years old, activist Broadbent is still boldly discussing her disease across the country, and working to fight its proliferation.

Hydeia Broadbent is making history … by showing the world that AIDS is not a moral judgment. In 1984, when Broadbent inherited HIV in utero from her crack-addicted biological mother, the diagnosis was widely considered a result of gay or promiscuous sex. Now 26 years old, she’s from the first generation of people born HIV positive. She’s made a mission of showing the world that AIDS could happen to anyone.

Preconceptions about HIV and AIDS, as well as treatments for them, have drastically altered since Broadbent was a test baby for HIV medicines in the ‘80s. HIV is no longer a death sentence, and many of the people she talks to know somebody living with HIV or AIDS without much apparent difficulty. To them, she emphasizes the cost — financial and personal — of living with a disease, where each pill she takes costs $750 and a man she loves may leave her for fear of infection. Though Broadbent still experiences the stigma associated with her disease, she’s also started meeting people who aren’t afraid of it, and she believes that education is the key to prevention.

What’s next for Hydeia?

With first-hand experience of the self-esteem issues stemming from HIV and AIDS, the activist is looking to open a foundation in her home neighborhood to support young women living with the disease.

Broadbent is also writing about her life story, working on a documentary film and is interested in pursuing an advanced degree in 2011.

In her own words …

“When I started speaking, people were definitely afraid,” Broadbent told AOL Black Voices in December. “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.”

A favorite quote …

“Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” – Marian Wright Edelman

A little-known fact …

In 2010, black Americans accounted for more than 46 percent of people living with HIV, but only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

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