Marva Smith Battle-Bey’s unwavering dedication to South Los Angeles began as a graduate student at USC when she fell in love with the community’s vibrancy. Determined to uplift the area, she resolved to champion its economic development.   

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1952, Marva’s path began at Michigan State University, where she earned her BS in Urban Planning. Moving west, she attended the University of Southern California (USC), earning her MS in Urban and Regional Planning, her MPA in Public Administration, and pursuing her Ph.D. (ABD) in Urban Studies. 

A true pioneer, Marva toiled for redevelopment years before the 1992 riots. Her perseverance shone through despite setbacks: “You get over that stuff because you have to,” she’d say. Her enduring disposition drove her to address what she understood well: economic maturation must be addressed at its foundations

Marva’s unwavering determination transformed her vision into a tangible reality when she founded VSEDC in 1979, responding to the closure of major retailers in South LA. Focused on the pillars of economic evolution, the organization’s mission began by supporting small businesses by offering access to loans, entrepreneur training, and home renovations for elderly residents. 

VSEDC steadily evolved under Marva’s tenacious guidance, spearheading the development of the Vermont-Slauson Shopping Center—the first significant retail investment in the community since the 1965 Watts riots. Her strategic vision expanded further in 1997 when VSEDC acquired land that now houses an El Super grocery store and other food-based businesses. Additionally, her acquisition of properties along Western Ave in Chesterfield Square paved the way for the Business Enterprise Center (BEC). Opened in 2002, the BEC proudly hosts the South LA Best Buy Teen Tech Center and an AT&T Connected Learning Center, both instrumental in bolstering the community’s economic prospects. 

Recognized nationally as an authority in economic development, Marva received the 2007 National Minority Small Business Champion Award from the Small Business Administration. She also founded and led organizations like the Black Women’s Network, championing economic empowerment for women nationwide. Passionate about mentorship, she inspired USC students and promoted diversity through her “An Evening of Soul” program.  

Marva Smith Battle-Bey’s 35 years at the helm of VSEDC transformed South Los Angeles. Her legacy of economic charge, community revitalization, and unwavering advocacy live in VSEDC’s continued mission. 


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