In October, a 9-year-old girl was spraying for spotted lanternflies in her New Jersey community when her neighbor called 9-1-1 on her. “There’s a little black woman walking and spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing. Scares me though,” said the neighbor in the 9-1-1 call.
The little girl, named Bobbi Wilson, had recently learned about the invasive species in school and wanted to do her part in making sure they don’t terrorize her neighborhood. Various studies have warned of spotted lanternflies, which are a threat to the grape, orchard, and logging industries in the United States.
The police quickly realized the little girl wasn’t doing anything wrong, but her mother – Monique Joseph – wasn’t about to let her neighbor’s racial profiling go unnoticed and wanted to make an example out of it. “With the wrong police officer in the wrong town, I could not have a kid to hug at night,” said Joseph.
In November, a CBS News correspondent knocked on the door of Gordon Lawshe – the neighbor who made the 9-1-1 call. He quickly told them to talk to his lawyer, but they said he wasn’t responding. He later added, “That’s because you guys just print whatever you want to print. You don’t print the truth.”
The incident resulted in a bit of trauma for the 9-year-old girl, who was scared to go back outside out of fear that her neighbor would call the police on her again. Now several months later, the Montclair Police Department is awarding the little girl for her ‘passion for science and environmental stewardship.’
Members of the police force and local government commemorated Bobbi Wilson with kind words and encouraged her to continue being the incredible little girl that she is. “I just want you to know that I am you. I see you. I represent you,” said one African American police officer during the celebration.
“I wanted it to be a teachable moment for my community. You know, I’m grateful I know I have Bobbi every night,” said her mother. Other members of the community were asking Bobbi for the homemade solution she was using so their kids can continue her mission to free the community of lanternflies.
Yale University Also Honors the New Jersey 9-Year-Old
As news of the incident spread across the nation, one professor at the Yale School of Public Health – Ijeoma Opara – honored the little girl for her enthusiasm over environmental science. She wanted to make sure Bobbi Wilson knew that what she did wasn’t just the right thing, but it was inspirational.
“Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this… This is something unique to Bobbi. We wanted to show her bravery and how inspiring she is and we just want to make sure she feels honored and loved,” said Opara. So, she organized an event to commemorate Bobbi, introducing her to other black scientists.
Not only that, but they helped Bobbi put her lanternfly collection – which included 27 spotted lanternflies that she caught in her New Jersey community – in a display box, which is officially being put in an exhibit at Yale’s Peabody Museum. The exhibit is dedicated to Bobbi, who is labeled the donor scientist.
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Just a few months ago, Bobbi Wilson feared she might go to jail – instead, she ended up at Yale. “I wanted to let every young boy or every young girl, or even adults, know that no one can knock you off your way to success and we all can do our part to save our environment – just like me,” said Wilson.
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