Ramapo College acknowledged World AIDS Day on Monday with keynote speaker Hydeia Broadbent, who has been HIV positive since age three and predicted not to live past age five. She is now 28.
Broadbent's speech was dynamic. She brought an uplifting presence to the stage, full of stories that could have made some uncomfortable, but gave students a feeling that they are not alone in their struggles. Students were educated on HIV symptoms, resources and on how Broadbent became inspired to help others.
Throughout the past two decades, Broadbent has suffered brain infections, blood infections and up to seven encounters with the chicken pox virus.
"AIDS is not the death sentence that it once was, but it is not simple to live with," Broadbent said. "There are many responsibilities that come along with staying healthy and taking care of yourself."
Broadbent was adopted by bi-racial parents; her father is Caucasian and her mother is African-American and participated in the civil rights movement.
Though the thought of getting tested may be frightening, especially for young college students, Broadbent portrayed an optimistic side to knowing your HIV status so you can start medical treatment and help protect people that you may come in physical contact with.
"You have to be below poverty level to be considered for a medication program that helps you pay for your pills and doctors appointments, which can cost hundreds of dollars a month," Broadbent said. "To be honest, there are days where fluids are coming out from both ends, but today is a good day, and I feel well."
Broadbent spoke of the ways she stays inspired to fight her illness each day, including surrounding herself with loved ones. Because an HIV side effect like depression often leaves people feeling isolated, she tries to overcome that feeling by reading positive books, exercising and staying involved with her faith.
"My best advice for people who want to educate others would to talk to their younger family members about sex because every month, a thousand of young people are infected," Broadbent said.
The event itself was short, but the effect that it had on students would last much longer.
"I attended the event because I am curious about recent progresses in science to make AIDS a thing of the past," senior Matthew Adams said. "I think it helped my awareness. The statistic that surprised me most was the one thousand new cases each month in people ages 18 to 24. That statistic is really scary to think about. I thought Hydeia Broadbent was very engaging and enthusiastic, and I learned a lot from her."
Women's Center publicist and junior Alexandra Lapp said that she appreciated the novelty and honesty of Broadbent's speech.
"I think what sticks out to me most is Hydeia talking about life after the AIDS diagnosis and that that life exists," Lapp said. "I think we spent a lot of time in health classes and presentations being scared into being careful not to get HIV. Teachers concentrate on prevention, but they never talk about what happens after you have AIDS. That is so important for giving help to people with the disease because it shows them that their life isn't over."
In her speech, Broadbent emphasized her desire to help others, above all.
"When someone confides in me, especially in the work that I do, I strive to be that ear and shoulder that they can rely on to hear them out," she said. "Because I treat people the way I like to be treated, as an equal."