David Tyson Smith grew up in Columbia, Missouri. He attended Ridgeway Elementary and Hickman High School. Although he loved competition and received varsity letters in both basketball and track and field, he also loved literature and enrolled in courses such as Honors English. From these early teenage years David learned to navigate, exist and establish friendships in these different worlds of higher-level academics and athletics, worlds which unfortunately rarely intersected.
David attended the University of Missouri and, as a college student, became involved in the local community. Fun City Youth Academy was a pillar of the minority community and provided after school programs for Columbia’s youth. The program was in danger of ending as the cornerstone of the program, Beulah Ralph, was stepping down. Although in college, David assumed the role of the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of Fun City Youth Academy so it could continue operating through the difficult transition.
While in college, David spent many summers working for the Plant Pathology Department at the University of Missouri. The job involved collecting and processing soil samples which often took him to the southern part of the state. Traveling to Sikeston and the surrounding cities in the Bootheel, David gained firsthand experience in the cultural differences that exist between Columbia and southern Missouri. It often felt as if he was stepping back in time, not just in years, but in decades.
It was during these college years that David’s awareness of societal injustice grew, inspiring him to major in Sociology and minor in Political Science. That same motivation was obvious in his decision to then attend Tulane Law School in New Orleans in preparation for a potential career in law and politics.
David hit the ground running at Tulane and as an indication of the early impact he made on fellow students, he was elected Class President in his first year in law school. He loved the diverse curriculum which Tulane as a national law school offered, allowing him to take courses such as Congressional Legislation and the Law of the Sea. In addition, David found a heightened sense of commitment, hitting his stride in an intensive Trial Advocacy Course. He realized that through such advocacy, he could serve those whose voices are seldom heard.
After graduation from Tulane, David planned on returning to Missouri. However, he was recruited to work for a Plaintiff’s law firm in downtown New Orleans that had been involved in landmark litigation against Big Tobacco. Through his work, David saw up close how the greed and power of big corporations would crush those of limited power unless those corporations were fought.
But after five years in the New Orleans area, the pull to return home could not be denied. He returned to Columbia and eventually founded the law firm of Smith & Parnell LLC with Malia Parnell in 2005. As an extension of David’s desire to make a positive impact on society, the firm focuses on Criminal Defense, Personal Injury and Family Law. Through his work as a practicing attorney, David deals firsthand with the Criminal Justice issues so prevalent in today’s headlines and the effects of the Criminal Justice system on his clients.
In 2006, David heard the cries of citizens regarding the charges of inappropriate behavior and excessive force being used by the Columbia Police Department. David, along with other community leaders, led the charge for the creation of a Citizens Police Review Board in Columbia to address these pressing issues.
Believing that the Department lacked accountability and transparency, David saw the formation of a Citizens Police Review Board as a way to increase accountability, promote transparency, and encourage citizen engagement. He presented a proposed review board ordinance to the City Council in 2006 and was ultimately selected by the Council to serve on a committee designed to assess the need for a review board for the City. He also chaired the sub-committee tasked with designing the structure and the operation of the Board. The committee voted unanimously to recommend the creation of the Board and the City Council unanimously voted in its favor, leading to the Board’s establishment in 2009.
David’s continued interest in both law and politics was again heightened in 2007, while attending a national legal conference held by the American Association of Justice in Chicago. In the run up to the 2008 election, several presidential candidates were in the area. David took advantage of the opportunity to speak to Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In 2017, David was appointed to the Missouri Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. The role of the Commission is to advise the President and Congress on Civil Rights issues. David relished the opportunity to be able to contribute his legal expertise and passion for social justice to civil rights issues in the State of Missouri.
While continuing to practice law, David has remained active in the Columbia community. He has served on the Board of Directors of Ragtag, selected as one of the “People You Should Know,” by the Columbia Business Times, and in 2009 was selected as one of the City’s “20 under 40”.
More importantly, David continues to fight for social justice both through the work in his law firm and in the broader community. A frequent commentator in local media on a variety of criminal justice issues, he recently spoke at a summer rally after the tragic killing of George Floyd. David spoke to the crowd of hundreds reminding them that the fight for justice is one that is not done passively. True to this principle, he is excited to place his name on the April 6th ballot as the Democratic candidate for House District 45 in the Missouri State Legislature.