All-American on the Track, Social Activist off the Track
Dec. 1, 2005
Big West Conference Champion, NCAA West Regional Champion and NCAA All-American. One of the most impressive resumes in the West is owned by one of the calmest and kindest student-athletes on the Track & Field squad, 4th year Tetlo Emmen. However, as teammates and opponents have experienced, his gentle demeanor should not be mistaken for the intense fire burning inside; a trait he carries with him on the track and off the track.
Born in Torrance, CA, Emmen was brought up by his mother who has her roots in the South African country of Botswana and a father who is rooted in the potato state of Idaho; a cultural dichotomy he has grappled with and learned to harness. On one hand he holds close to his heart a country with an average life expectancy at birth of 33.87 years (2nd lowest in the world according the latest CIA World Factbook ) and in the other hand a country with an average life expectancy at birth of 77.71. One culture can be found happy with very little, while the other may only be found happy with a lot. Aspects of both that Emmen has come to terms with.
Visiting Botswana on and off as a child he at one time lived there from the end of Kindergarten through the 3rd grade. Returning to southern California, he would grow up often feeling different. "I always felt different and I wasn't sure why. I had a different perspective. I always thought of myself as just American being born here, but when people would say things I realized I often thought differently." But, not giving it much thought as a kid, as he got older and entered high school he found himself doing a little more searching. "It wasn't just, `oh whatever, to asking myself why?' High school was the first time I felt I had to be one or the other. Black or White. For a while I saw black because society did, and now I go back and forth and I don't consider myself either."
A standout middle distance runner in California he would next find himself traveling just up highway 101 to attend UCSB and compete for the Gauchos. Commenting on his freshman year to a bit of laughter, "I was just hiding out". Then in his sophomore year not only did he break out on the track with a NCAA West Regional Championship title at 800m, but he also became more actively involved with social activism on campus.
Emmen joined the African Awareness Student Organization (AASO), which brings awareness to different issues at UCSB and foster cultural and social ties with all people of African descent. He also joined the Black Pioneers Renaissance Organization (BPRO), which serves as a support system and a platform for the voices of Black Men. They are involved in annual outreach to high school students to get them thinking about college as well as organize Black Women's Appreciation among others.
After serving as Vice President of the AASO his junior year he now finds himself as the Co-President of the organization. One of the group's major undertakings of the year is assisting with today's World AIDS Day event at UCSB, which includes a silent march and a "die-in". Wednesday afternoon saw a Pre-World AIDS day event, which included food tasting from 22 different student organizations. Emmen expanded that this year's goal was to bring awareness to the scope of the epidemic and raise some money for it in doing so. "Its not only an African thing. It's worldwide with over 40 million affected. The idea of the food tasting was to involve many different student groups so that it truly reflected the scope of the issue with the idea that more would get involved on World AIDS Day." He went on to comment that in the past the majority of those who participated were from the Black community and this year they wanted the march to represent all cultures.
Helping promote, organize and coordinate all aspects of the Pre-World AIDS Day food tasting, Emmen and the AASO raised approximately $1700 to host the event in Storke Plaza in front of the University Center and bring together all of the different organizations. Selling tickets to taste each group's food, they raised just under $1000 with 100% of the proceeds going to two different charities, Keep A Child Alive and also the Q Fund for Aids . As for the World AIDS Day silent march today and "die-in", it serves to bring a stronger, symbolic form of awareness to the issue.
He states "basically the idea is to silence ourselves to represent those who are silenced by AIDS throughout the world. We will be passing out fliers with information in silence instead of using bullhorns. This is just a different way to get our message apart. It's subtler, but the people who do read our fliers will understand what we are doing and what it is for rather than cover their ears."
Crediting his motivation in social activism to his mother's heritage from Botswana he comments, "it's a way of feeling connected because I am separated out here. I came to terms with this last time I visited Botswana two summers ago. My family is really poor. Wow. I mean it's the world when you give them a shirt. But, at the same time, you step back and you realize they are not poor. They are not unhappy. I just come from a society that thinks of materialism, materialism and materialism. There are bad things about their lives as there are bad things about our lives here. You do not want to look at your family as victims, it is how they live their life, just as we live ours here."
Emmen went on to expand, "I look to help out the causes that I do because often people are drawn to places they feel they can help. There are those as well who are involved but may not have any connections. For myself, I feel like I owe the people of the world. It is not just helping issues in Botswana because it is hard to look at an issue and say, `oh this just happens in Botswana', because it doesn't, it happens everywhere."
Using this perspective on life he has become one of the hardest working student-athletes. Whether it is repeat 200 meters or organizing a school wide event, he does things effortlessly and with a sense of calm, a trait he attributes to his father.
Emmen explained, "that you get the most done when you are busiest. When you have to get X, Y and Z done, you just get it done. There is a lot of time in the day, there is always time. There are 14-16 hours a day you can work and you just have to be efficient with it...there are people I know who are just as busy involved in groups and working three jobs." It is this ability to see all perspectives and stay calm through all the work that has made Emmen the gracious person he has become.
On how track plays into his life as a social activist, he states, "track is a release for me. I spend the whole day running around through red tape. Then I can work out the frustration and use it as a stress release among other things. It has also helped me with organization in terms of being motivated." A motivation which has led him to set goals of a professional running career and continued social activism.
Wanting to blend both aspects of his life, he stated, "Running and activism can be tied together. By the time I graduate I would like to be top 3 at nationals and then move onto a professional running career. Track can take me around the world and it can be used as a platform for many different types of social activism. I want to expand on my social activism. But, if running doesn't work out I sort of know what I want to do with my life. I see myself in some capacity helping others empower themselves. Things such as AIDS, measles; there are a million things you can do to help."
World AIDS Day events are being conducted throughout the world today and at UCSB they begin at 10am in front of the Arbor. Emmen can be found on the track daily and racing beginning in March 2006 with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.