San Francisco is considered one of the most health-conscious cities in the world. In fact, The American College of Sports and Fitness ranked the Bay Area number four out of the 50 biggest metropolitan areas for health and fitness. Despite this ranking, San Francisco has several neighborhoods with high rates of diabetes and chronic heart disease.
Kenny Hill grew up in one of these neighborhoods, Bayview-Hunters Point, so he knows first hand how difficult it can be to live healthy in that part of the city. Growing up, Kenny’s mother had a tradition of getting all eight children in the family to sit down and eat together.
“It was positive for us, like it was a time for us to sit down and talk about what was going on throughout the day, who was having problems, and who needed help with things,” says Hill.
But the tradition fell apart when his parents divorced.
“I was left to fend on my own in a sense because my mom, she would be at work, she’d give me money and say, ‘Oh, make sure you get something to eat,’ and so I would have to eat McDonald’s, Burger King, or something like that," says Hill.
Hill says he was overweight and unconcerned about it.
But Kenny’s life changed when he registered late for classes at City College. He enrolled in a health education class and immediately knew he was in the right spot.
“On the first day she [the teacher] was saying that when you have like, people that have more fast food chains and liquor stores in their communities, they oftentimes have these types of health outcomes," recalls Hill. "And me just sitting there, thinking back and saying, ‘Well, I live in a place that’s very similar to what she’s talking about. My grandparents, they have diabetes.'”
Hill made changes to his eating and exercise habits, even becoming a member of 24-Hour Fitness on 16th and Potrero. He dropped more than a hundred pounds from his 374-pound frame. These things were unthinkable to Hill before his health education class.
But Hill did not stop at changing his own life. He became a Food Guardian and realized he has a responsibility of spreading the healthy-living gospel within the Bayview neighborhood.
“Now I feel like the Department of Public Health knows that they need to have people in the communities that they want to serve working with them. It’s key to have Black and brown people working in the Department of Public Health,” says Hill.
Many people are positively influenced by Hill's work as a Food Guardian, but none more than his son.
“I try to sit down with him to eat meals and stuff once we get home. That's really the only time we have together to sit down and talk ... for him to know that I'm ok and I'm well,” says Hill.
And Hill is well. Perhaps better than he would’ve been if he had registered for his classes in time.
This story is part of the Sights and Sounds of Bayview Project about people who live and work in the Bayview neighborhood. Find links to more stories below.