Dr. Caesar Alfred Churchwell is a longtime advocate for minority businesses in San Francisco. When he’s not managing his dental practice in the outer Mission District, he is serving on the board of San Francisco’s African American Chamber of Commerce (SFAACC). Currently Vice Chairman of the Board, Dr. Churchwell has previously held positions as California State Commissioner, residential developer, and parking management operator. His work with SFAACC has impacted numerous black businesses by giving them a voice in the development of the city. Working with late Mayor Ed Lee, he’s helped to create new business opportunities and halt the migration of black businesses struggling with “out-migration” (Carla).
In 2014 Dr. Churchwell helped organize a travel boycott with African American business leaders. The boycott nearly cost the city $32 million in annual revenue from tourism. Overseeing the tourism department, Dr. Churchwell realized the image that the city was trying to present to tourists was not inclusive of black neighborhoods. Ads catered to white audiences: and tours and attractions were being centered in more gentrified neighborhoods. Most employees in the tourism industry excluded African American and Latinx voices and perspectives.
According to the San Francisco Travel Bayview newspaper, 2012 was the most successful year of tourism. However much of the profit did not come from black businesses. With so few opportunities to benefit from San Francisco’s bountiful tourism industry, the SFAACC saw that the exclusion of minority businesses was unfair.
Five years prior to the movement for better representation SFAACC leaders had already recognized the disempowering effects that little representation had. In an interview with the San Francisco Bayview newspaper, Dr. Churchwell voiced his grievances and motivation for the travel boycott: “Residents of Bayview–Hunters Point have a life expectancy that is 14 years less than residents of Pacific Heights, and just 50 percent of our children are graduating from San Francisco high schools. The mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors need to take action and pay more than lip service to these issues. When it comes to being progressive, talk is cheap” (Jackson). He resented the unequal distribution of wealth and resources in San Francisco and sought to make change in the city. Churchwell’s boycott commanded attention from city leaders by way of monetary force. “The San Francisco African American Chamber called the boycott,” Churchwell said, “and only the Chamber can call it off . We have a responsibility to our members and our community to ensure that they have access to the same opportunities as other businesses in San Francisco” (Jackson).
In conjunction with the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Churchwell met with former Mayor Ed Lee. During this summit the SFAACC explained to Lee that the reason for the large African American emigration occurring was the lack of job opportunities and affordable housing due to gentrification. In response to these allegations, Lee became an advocate for racially inclusive city contracts and business opportunities.
Along with advocating for black businesses in the tourism sector, Churchwell has also called out “backroom deals.” On June 22, 2015, Churchwell wrote to the commissioner of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Ann Moller Caen, to voice his disapproval of a $7 million contract awarded to Jacobs Engineering. At first glance the grant was beneficial to the community (it would fund and execute a public project called the Central Bayside Improvement Project improving storm-water management and ensuring compliance with current and future regulations for earthquake safety). Churchwell disagreed with the final decision, however, when he realized that the Public Utilities Commission allowed just one vendor, Montgomery Watson, to cut a deal with Jacobs Engineering. Churchwell said this was in direct opposition to the protocols the city has in place to indicate the hiring of private contractors. Churchwell saw this corruption in the city’s business dealings and warned that there would only be more “backroom deals” to follow. Additionally, he shared frustration with the lack of local businesses considered for the job, pointing out more blind spots in San Francisco lawmakers’ perspectives. Lastly, he asked for the contract with Jacobs Engineering to be canceled and for the Public Utilities Commission to begin looking for a local company to ensure that taxpayers will receive the highest quality work at a best rate (Churchwell).
Dr. Caesar Alfred Churchwell’s tireless efforts to ensure the survival of black-owned businesses in the Bay Area is a noble enterprise and an excellent use of his social standing in the African American community of San Francisco. Coupled with his years of work as a dentist running his own practice, Churchwell has proven himself as a pillar in his community, and a valuable voice of progress for San Francisco.
— Sage Stefanick, Lupita Garcia, and Cassey Cassamajor
Churchwell, Caesar A. Jacobs Engineering Award.
Jackson, Xochitl. “San Francisco could face $32 million loss from African American tourism boycott.” San Francisco Bay View. 4 Mar 2014.
“Letter to San Francisco Public Utilities Commissioner Caen.” SFAACC. 22 Jun 2015.
“Officers and Board of Directors.” San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce. 2014.
Thomas, Carla. “SFAACC Leaders Meet with Mayor Edwin Lee.” SFAACC. 2018.