William (Bill) Jenkins was born to Martha and Albert Jenkins in Mount Pleasant, S.C. He graduated from Laing High School and went on to continue his education at Morehouse College (B.A.), Georgetown University (M.A.), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (M.P.H. and Ph.D.), and Harvard University (post doctoral). In 1983, he married Dr. Diane Rowley and they had one daughter, Danielle Rowley-Jenkins.
From his early years, Dr. Jenkins was an activist. In high school, he registered people to vote. In college, he was a foot soldier in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was jailed, along with the future Georgia congressman John Lewis and others, for protesting the whites-only restaurant owned by Lester Maddox, a segregationist and future governor of Georgia.
When Dr. Jenkins was in his early 20s, hededicated his professional career to the commitments of social justice in public health and expanding the diversity of the public health workforce. Dr. Jenkins spent most of his career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the field of research and epidemiology focusing on prevention of STDs, HIV, and tuberculosis.
Throughout his career, Dr. Jenkins was committed to addressing the shortage of underrepresented minorities in leadership positions in the public health field. Heconsulted on developing public health programs at a variety of historically black colleges and universities.
After retiring, Dr. Jenkins taught at Morehouse College and the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.