A Legacy of Smiles: Vincent Copeland

April 1, 2019

For Itta Bena native and Mississippi Valley State University alumnus Vincent Copeland, MVSU is more than just a university—it’s home.

The son of two devoted University employees, Copeland is grateful for the impact Valley had on his life.  

The Copeland family played an integral part at the University during its formative years. Copeland’s father, William Copeland, was hand-selected by founding president Dr. J.H. White, as the Food Services Director. His mother, Melba Copeland, served as a hostess in the school’s cafeteria.

As an only child, Vincent’s spent many days as a child on Valley’s campus.

“Back then, Valley was very family-oriented. There were baseball teams during the summer and Dr. Musgrove, who was over the theatre department at the time, put on plays that we could participate in. All the staff’s children were very close so we all played together around campus. It was a lot of fun,” Copeland recalled.

Growing up on a college campus, was exposed to an array of positive role models to emulate.

So naturally, when it was time for him to attend college, it was only fitting that he enrolled at MVSU, where he would earn a degree in Biology.

Copeland fondly remembers his time as a student at Mississippi Valley. Not only did he excel academically, he also pledged Phi Beta Sigma and enjoyed campus Greek life.

Copeland credits Valley as sparking his interest in wanting to pursue a career in dentistry. He recalls noticing an advertisement for the Summer Science Program at Meherry Medical School in Nashville, TN in the University’s science department. Vincent applied and was accepted to participate in the program, where he had the opportunity to spend eight weeks during the summer taking classes with students from all over the United States.  

Copeland acknowledges that the curriculum at Meherry was rigorous, yet enlightening because it prepared him for what was to come in professional school.

“It was because of Valley that I was able to find out about that program and decide my career path. The exposure was really great.”

Copeland’s parents loved Valley and were huge advocates for education. Vincent’s father, who was originally from Georgia, was a first-generation graduate of Tuskegee University. With the signing of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the G.I. Bill, the elder Copeland used the armed forces as an avenue to pay for a college education.

Enlisting in the 1940s, he was one of the first African Americans to enroll in the Marine Corp.

Because his parents were so passionate about education, Vincent, along with his wife, Helen, launched the William and Melba Copeland Endowed Scholarship Fund. Currently, it has almost reached its $25,000 full endowment status.

Today, the Copeland family continues to create a lasting legacy. With practices in both Tunica, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn., The Copeland Dentistry practice is a “family affair”.

Vincent and his wife are the parents of four daughters; Jasmine, Alexis, Kayla and Valeah.

Helen, a 1985 graduate of MVSU, went back to school to become a Dental Hygienist and assists with the practice. Before than, she had an extensive career in Social Work and owned childcare centers.

Their children are also pursuing dentistry as a career. His oldest daughter, Jasmine, recently graduated from Meherry Dental School, and their two other daughters are currently applying to dental schools and awaiting their acceptance.

When asked what advice he could offer college students, Copeland’s words were simple, yet firm; “Be passionate and, be patient.  I think everyone should strive to be a difference maker.”