By Amy White
The Texas Catholic
A successful music career. A dynamic law practice. An active faith.
With David Small, excellence is the word.
Small’s roots run deep in the Dallas diocese. Born in 1959 and raised in Cedar Crest, Small was a student at Immaculate Heart of Mary until the school closed his second-grade year. He then studied at St. James before attending Bishop Dunne Catholic School from eighth grade through high school. At Bishop Dunne, he made life-shaping relationships that set him on a path of excellence and service.
“The most impactful educator was our high school band director,” said Small, who played percussion in Bishop Dunne’s band, directed by Bob Parsons.
“Mr. Parsons was an incredible educator… He had this quote on his desk. It was by von Goethe: ‘If you treat a man according to what he can become, that is what he will become,’” Small recalled. “Mr. Parsons had an excellent program, and he gave kids a chance to participate in something that was excellent.”
Small was treated as someone who could thrive, and he did. He became first chair in the UIL all-state orchestra. After high school, he successfully pursued a career in music.
Small was the first graduate of the Recording & Applied Music program at Cedar Valley College and, in 2010, was named a distinguished alumnus. After Cedar Valley, he attended Berklee College of Music Conservatory. Afterwards, he traveled the country, playing drums for several national acts.
“I was a drummer and a studio musician and recording artist for a few years,” Small said. “Opportunities kept getting better and better, so I just kept doing it.”
When Small eventually decided to pursue law, graduating in 1992 from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, he utilized his music knowhow and network.
Although Small initially worked as a prosecutor at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and then explored insurance defense and banking litigation, he eventually started a practice focusing on entertainment law.
“Within a few years, a lot of the people that I had recorded with and done a lot of music with started referring things to me,” Small said, “My practice became more and more focused on entertainment: television, music, film, and social media.”
Small’s entertainment background inspired him to found the Texas Black Film Festival in 2006.
“At that time, we were doing a lot of major music deals and record company signings, and we were doing quite a few TV deals with artists,” he said. “We wanted to do something that would help create more of a community of film.”
Within five years, the festival was one of the top four or five black film festivals in the country, screening more films than the Hollywood Black Film Festival or San Francisco Black Film Festival, Small said.
“It was a give-back thing,” Small said. “Even though we don’t do the festival anymore, the community that we started is still rolling.”
Small also utilized his law background to aid his parish, Holy Cross Catholic Church in Oak Cliff.
“I was just an old country pastor, and I had a good city slicker lawyer to be my friend,” said Father Timothy Gollob, retired pastor of Holy Cross, who served the parish community for 51 years. “He was our lawyer. If we ever had a legal problem, we’d go, ‘David, what do we do now?’… He’s a very good, go-too person.”
Small’s faith—handed down by his parents and nurtured during Catholic school—is a major part of his life, infusing everything he does.
Small joined his first Catholic board as a member of Catholic Charities Dallas. Sister Mary Anne Owens, SSND, former executive director of Catholic Charities of Dallas, recruited Small while he was a prosecutor at the district attorney’s office.
“I was trying to explain to her that I thought I was too busy to do that,” Small recalled. “She said we’re trying to give you an opportunity to participate in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to serve thousands of people. When she said that, I was floored.”
Within a couple of years, Small became vice president of the board, then president from 2002 to 2003.
“I was there when we started the PAN (People and Nutrition) program, when we started the gala, which is still running, and when we really got the ESL classes going strong,” Small said. “I’m very proud to have been involved in those activities.”
Kris Kramer worked with Small while he was on the Catholic Charities’ board and has remained friends with him for decades.
“The first time I met David has got to be at least 20-something years ago,” Kramer said. “His demeanor and sparkle and smile and kindness were a gift. He’s a fantastic leader, a great mentor, a fabulous friend, and very faithful man that serves the community in many, many ways that no one even knows about.”
Small’s involvement as a Catholic Charities Dallas board member led to involvement in other diocesan boards. He served as a trustee of The Catholic Foundation from 2007 to 2013.
“You really learn a lot about stewardship with the foundation because anytime there is a grant, those are looked at very carefully,” Small said.
Small also served as an original member of the Diocese of Dallas School Board from 1997 to 2011. Currently, Small sits on the Diocesan Education Endowment Trust, which funds tuition assistance for Catholic schools.
Small is also a member of the diocesan Interracial Healing Task Force, created by Bishop Edward J. Burns.
The goal of the group is to promote awareness and healing concerning issues of race. The task force discusses how the Catholic community can be an example of love and equity.
“We have an opportunity within our diocese and within our Catholic faith to really make an impact and show people what it’s like for different people to work together peacefully in the name of God,” said Small. “That’s basically the goal… and it takes boots on the ground.”
Small emphasized the contribution of the black Catholic community to the universal Church.
“There are blacks that have contributed to the Catholic faith for a long, long time, and I think that a lot of people don’t really think about that. Within the black
Catholic community, we’re very proud of these contributions, and it’s great to have an opportunity to talk about them,” said Small.
Centered in Faith
Small’s accomplishments are more than just show; they are rooted in a very personal faith.
“I am impressed with him,” said Father Gollob. “He and his family took care of a lady across the street from them… He didn’t leave Christianity just for big boards. He worked next door.”
Small is currently building up his own faith community by forming a traveling Mass group.
“Me and one of my classmates from Bishop Dunne, her name is Monica Harkenrider, we are starting a daily Mass group where, every couple of weeks, we’re going to hit a different diocesan parish and go to a daily Mass. Our goal is to, within a year, hit every parish that’s within the city.”
The group started its tour at The National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Oct. 24.
“Being firmly planted in faith is extremely important to everything you do in life. By putting faith in relationships, it makes them solid; without it, it’s very difficult.”
Faith is behind all that Small has achieved. Not only does he embrace excellence but also joy.
“The thing that impresses me about David Small is that he usually has a smile on his face,” Father Gollob said. “When he has a tear coming to his eyes because something really touches his heart, that is wonderful. But usually, he has a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.”
Small also exudes thankfulness in all circumstances. Gratitude is a choice he makes.
“I look at what I do as an opportunity to be of service, no matter what the circumstance is. A lot of times, you do things without compensation, because it’s more important to be of service than it is to receive compensation,” Small said. “I feel blessed all the time… For us to be able to do what we do, it’s all a blessing.”
Editor’s Note: “Faces of Faith” is a regular feature that highlights parishioners at the various parishes throughout the Diocese of Dallas and how their faith has impacted their lives and the lives of others. Know someone who you’d like to see featured, let us know by submitting their name, parish and a little bit about them to firstname.lastname@example.org.