The girls returned to the prestigious campus for a special event commemorating Bobbi and her commitment to both science and her community.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 3, 2023. It has since been updated.
The spotted lanternfly has received a lot of attention. The beautifully colored yet highly invasive and destructive species has expanded rapidly. The people were encouraged to trample on apple and maple trees, among other vegetation, whenever they saw the flash of red and speckled wings. A 9-year-old Black girl named Bobbi Wilson decided to attempt something similar in her hometown of Caldwell, New Jersey. A neighbor contacted the authorities to report a "suspicious" individual as she destroyed the animals with a non-toxic, homemade spray, reported My Modern Met.
The young scientist was subjected to a terrible incident of racial profiling, as many people of color have experienced. Despite this traumatic occurrence, Yale University has taken further steps to ensure Bobbi understands how valuable and respected she is as a young, Black female scientist. Following the racist incident in October 2022, Bobbi's 13-year-old sister Hayden bravely stepped up in front of the town council to protest the unfairness her sister and other children of color experienced in their community.
Her impassioned statements drew the attention of news organizations, such as CNN. Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health, noticed the news and asked Bobbi and her family to visit Yale. The girls returned to the prestigious campus on January 20, 2023, for a special event commemorating Bobbi and her commitment to both science and her community. Bobbi handed her own collection of mounted spotted lanternflies to Yale's Peabody Museum during the event. The museum's catalog will always include her name.
Last Nov., Bobbi Wilson’s neighbor called the police on the 9-yo for spraying spotted lanternflies. A Yale professor heard Bobbi’s story, honored the young scientist, and asked her to submit the invasive specimens in Yale’s Natural History Museum! What a full circle moment! pic.twitter.com/LsErADYWuC— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) February 1, 2023
Professor Opara, who organized the event, said, "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 continues to feel honored and loved by the Yale community." Lawrence Gall, the Peabody Museum's Entomology Collections Manager and Nicole Palffy-Muhoray, the museum's Assistant Director of Student Programs, then encouraged Bobbi to identify one of her 27 specimens. They said, "We're so grateful for all of the work you've done down in New Jersey and your interest in conservation and checking out the lanternflies advance. We don't have many of them in Connecticut right now. They are just starting to come up here. But I'm sure we'll see them, so we're very happy to have these specimens."
Bobbi Wilson, the NJ 9-year-old who had police called on her for catching spotted lanternflies, was honored by Yale's School of Public Health for working to eradicate the invasive species. She also received a title of 'donor scientist' for providing her collection of the insects. pic.twitter.com/o7jrx5zO4k— NowThis (@nowthisnews) January 29, 2023
Monique Joseph, Bobbi's mother, spoke during the award ceremony. She described her dread as her family was the victim of a racist act as well as her concern for all stereotyped children. Hayden was commended for her daring statements. She said, "Dr. Opara, you have been a blessing. You are part of our testimonial and what it means to have a community of amazing, beautiful, Black, intelligent scientists and doctors and more important than that is your heart and your passion for the work that you do…You helped us change the trajectory of that day."
She said, "This happened because of what happened to Bobbi, but it also happened because 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, we're going to make sure her big sister Hayden doesn't lose that light.'"