Students Rising AboveBy Michelle Griego

SAN PABLO (KPIX 5) — For some Students Rising Above Scholars their story is as much about them as it is their family. And that is certainly the case with Naja Ji Jaga and her father, Dedan.

The East Bay father and daughter’s story is truly a team effort, with Dedan having high praise for his daughter.

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“She never went about things, you know, in an ordinary, everyday kind of pattern,” said Dedan Ji Jaga. “She was accomplishing things and before you could say ‘Great job!’ she was onto something else.”

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Naja has accomplished a lot of things, including basketball, track and school. Dedan says he knew from day one that Naja would fly high in life.

“When Naja was first born I would hold her by the back of her shirt, and I would spin her around like she was an airplane,” recalled Dedan. “And we would call her flight 10.18. That’s her birthday, August 18th, and she just seemed to like revel in that experience.”

But Naja’s road to success has had its turbulence. During the first semester of her sophomore year at San Pablo’s Middle College High School, Naja’s parents split up.

“And I ended up finishing that semester with the lowest grade I ever received in a class,” recalled Naja of that time. “But then I promised myself that I would prioritize my education for the betterment of myself.”

She did, pulling down straight-As by the semester’s end. And playing through some tough moments as an AAU junior track star, with her father as coach.

“Two weeks before we were to compete at the AAU junior Olympic nationals, Naja turned her ankle severely,” said Dedan. “I had to literally carry her off the field.”

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It’s that commitment to sports that led Naja to other amazing accomplishments, and some high-profile recognition. She was congratulated by 1968 Olympic gold medal champion Dr. Tommie Smith for being a platinum medal winner of President Barack Obama’s presidential fitness program. To get this amazing award, Naja worked two-and-a-half years to earn one million points through sporting activities like swimming, tennis, track and more.

She also received a proclamation from Richmond’s mayor and city council honoring her National Championship performance.

Now she will graduate high school soon and take off for Boston University on a scholarship.

“I’m still, like, in shock,” said Naja of this big life change. “Because it’s like all the way across the country.”

She plans on becoming a doctor, inspired by Dedan, a Vietnam veteran and retired journalist who’s faced some health problems.

“There are so many veterans, specifically black veterans, that have to deal with all these chronic ailments before they get their healthcare benefits,” observed Naja.

“She determines what has to be done, “said Dedan of his daughter. “I’m just anxious to see what the next chapter’s going to reveal.”

It’s that spirit of determination father and daughter share, and it’s also a connection both say will keep them close as Naja takes off.
Dedan says he will visit Naja in Boston, and their extended family back east is excited to spend some time with her, too.

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“I know that even though I won’t be here in person,” said Naja. “I’ll be in Boston. [But] I’ll still be here mentally to support [my family.]”