Someone Called the Police on a Girl Catching Lanternflies. Then Yale Honored Her.
The Yale School of Public Health honoured 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson in a ceremony last month for her efforts to curb the presence of an invasive species — the spotted lantern fly — in her hometown of Caldwell, New Jersey.
The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale accepted Bobbi’s donation of her personal lantern fly collection, presenting her with the title of “donor scientist.” The collection is now available for public viewing in the museum’s database, according to the university.
After learning in school about the pesky bugs, which ecologists have urged the public to squash on sight, Bobbi concocted a TikTok-inspired insect repellent composed of dishwater, soap and apple cider vinegar.
The fourth-grader was spraying the lantern flies around her home last October, when a police officer approached and began to question her.
A neighbour, former town council member Gordon Lawshe, had called the police to report a suspicious person. “There’s a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing. Scares me, though,” Lawshe said to dispatchers, according to footage obtained by CNN.
In a viral video, Bobbi’s older sister Hayden, 13, spoke at a city council meeting and said Lawshe’s actions were “extremely offensive, traumatic, and scarring” for her little sister and family.
Shortly after the incident, Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor of public health at Yale, invited Bobbi along with her family to meet other Black female scientists and tour the university. Opara also helped organize the Jan. 20 ceremony.
“Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this … this is something unique to Bobbi,” Opara said, according to a press release from the university. “We wanted to show her bravery and how inspiring she is,” she added.
“You know, you hear about racism; you kind of experience it in your peripheral if you’re lucky in your life. It doesn’t come knocking on your door. That morning when it happened, my world stopped,” Monique Joseph, Bobbi’s mother, said, according to the university.
Joseph expressed gratitude for the outpour of support her daughters have received since the incident.
“The whole community, the science community, got together and said, ‘She’s one of us and we’re not going to let her lose her steam for STEM. We’re going to support the family, we’re going to support this girl,'” she said.