“I don’t even recognize this place now,” said Yvette Latimore Figueroa while strolling down the corridors of the Independent Baptist Academy in Clinton.
In 1977, at the tender age of 14, Figueroa, who still lives in Clinton, remembered being an average student while attending Tacoma Park Junior High School when her father decided to enroll her and three other siblings at IBA for a better education.
“Because I went to public school all my life, when he told us that we were going to a private school, we weren’t happy about it,” she said. In fact, she expressed her reservations about going to the new school only to realize the protest would be in vain. “So, my sisters and I decided to purposely fail what they called a replacement test so we wouldn’t have to attend the school.”
To their dismay, they found out the test didn’t determine acceptance into the school, only their current academic level. “Our scheme didn’t work,” Figueroa said with a laugh.
So begrudgingly, Figueroa started her academic journey, being the only black American in a predominantly white class her entire four years. “Being the only black in a class of 10 students, I felt like, ‘Why am I here?’ because I wanted to be back with my other friends who were in public schools. So, I didn’t want to be in a Christian school,” Figueroa said. “But when I got there, my class was basically very nice to me. I never got any racial remarks at all, I just didn’t want to be there.”
The only other challenge Figueroa noted was the elevated level of academics at IBA surpassed the public school level. “At the academy an A started at 94%, where as in public schools a 90% was an A.... I thought, wait a minute, at the other school I was an average student, but here I’m going to have to study harder because the academic level was higher,” Figueroa said. “That was a challenge for me.”
Throughout her time at IBA, she acclimated to the high-level curriculum at hand and proudly matriculated with a 3.8 GPA, despite the challenges, and became the first African American to graduate from the academy (the fourth graduating class) in 1981, the first African American to be inducted into the National Honor Society and the school’s first black homecoming queen since the school’s inception in 1973.
“I was the only one in my family to graduate from IBA,” said Figueroa, whose parents moved her sisters back to the public school system. “But I just kept on going, and being around a Christian atmosphere, that taught Godly principles. I really learned a lot from my parents and the school in the past to prepare me for the future.” Figueroa was a member of the school’s Bible club.
“One of the things I liked about my Bible class was that we were taught a lot of Bible verses through song, which helps me now remember Scripture,” she said. “Because when I read Scripture, I think, ‘that’s right, we learned that in a song.’ So, now it’s easier for me to remember the verse.”
Figueroa chronicled her milestones at the school and considers them transformative. She cherishes the sacrifices her parents made to give her and her sisters a better education and foster Christian disciplines to contribute to the community.
“I really think our parents wanted the best for us. They wanted us to have a Christ-centered education,” Figueroa said.
Upon graduation, Figueroa started working at St. John’s Child Development Center in Washington, D.C., as a teacher’s aide to Katherine Norton, the daughter of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
She furthered her education at the Washington School for Secretaries, where she graduated with honors. After graduation, she started working for the federal government in 1984 and has been working as a personnel security specialist for more than 30 of the 35 years in government service.
Married to Fernando Figueroa in 1992 by her father, the Rev. Curtis Latimore, she has been an entrepreneur for the past three years, buying owner financed notes secured by residential and commercial properties all over the U.S.
Having been a resident of Prince George’s County for over four decades, Figueroa said she realizes the impact that the IBA has had on the successes she’s garnered over the years. Figueroa points to her favorite Bible verse as the basis for all of life’s accomplishments, Philippians 4:13; “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”
When asked how she felt about the historical accomplishments, Figueroa replied, “It feels wonderful, but I never thought about it that much, but friends encouraged me to tell my story, and after I read a book about Dorothy Gilliam, the first black reporter at The Washington Post, I thought it would be good to share my story,” Figueroa said. “I feel that I can encourage others who may be facing similar situations. I may have an impact on someone else’s life. Life experiences have led me to where I am today.”