Beatrice Vernise Clark Shelby was born on June 26, 1948, in Marvell, Phillips County, Arkansas.
Shelby attended Southern Business College in North Little Rock. She volunteered as a secretary for the NAACP.
From 1967 to 1981, she worked for Mid-Delta Community Services. Her work there led to her involvement with the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center in Marvell. As the executive director of the BGACDC, she has been able to implement numerous projects, including low-income housing and home-ownership assistance, children's reading programs, school-to-work initiatives, physical wellness efforts, adult education, and senior employment. She was named 1993 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leader and received the 2010 Brownie W. Ledbetter Dragon Slayer Award.