Yale University honored the 9-year-old with a ceremony to celebrate her efforts to eradicate lanternflies.

Nine-year-old Bobbi Wilson from Caldwell, New Jersey, knows a thing or two about the dangers of spotted lanternflies.

The United States has seen an upsurge in the invasive species, which pose a threat to the native tree and plant population.

The infestation is so bad, in fact, that State agricultural departments across the country are urging Americans to help eradicate the bugs with a “stomp it out!” campaign.

So, when Bobbi saw the invasive species taking up residence in the trees in her neighborhood, she decided to do something about it. She found a recipe for a homemade insecticide on TikTok and got to work.

“That’s her thing,” Wilson’s mother, Monique Joseph, told CNN“She’s going to kill the lanternflies, especially if they’re on a tree. That’s what she’s going to do.”

Neighbor Calls the Police About “A Little Black Woman”

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On October 22, Bobbi, armed with her spray bottle and a bug jar, set out to slay the beasts. She was excited to see if it would work.

Unfortunately, however, her environmental efforts were cut short when a neighbor reported her to the police.

According to a recording of the police call obtained by CNN, the neighbor, 71-year-old Gordon Lawshe, feared she was up to no good. He told the dispatcher, “There’s a little Black woman, walking and spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing. Scares me, though.”

He described her as a “real tiny woman” wearing a “hood.”

A police officer was sent out to investigate. When he arrived, he discovered the “little Black woman” was actually 4th grader and budding environmental scientist, Bobbi Wilson.

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According to the officer’s body camera footage, the little girl asked, “Am I in trouble?”

“No,” both her mother and the officer reassured her.

When the officer told Lawshe who she was, he immediately apologized, per CNN.

Lawshe’s attorney, Gregory Mascera, told CNN in an email statement, “Mr. Lawshe told Mrs. Joseph that had he known that it was her daughter that he had seen, he certainly would not have called the police. Mrs. Joseph did not accept Mr. Lawshe’s apology.”

The story made national headlines, prompting outrage and discussions about racial profiling.

A Community Steps Up in Support of Bobbi Wilson

Understandably, Bobbi was shaken up by the incident. Her 13-year-old sister, Hayden Wilson, with Bobbi at her side, spoke out about it at a Caldwell council meeting a few weeks later. Her speech was captured in a now-viral video.

“She was not only doing something amazing for our environment — she was doing something that made her feel like a hero,” Hayden said. “What Mr. Gordon Lawshe did to my sister was extremely offensive, traumatic, and scarring towards my family. I can confidently assure you guys that she will never forget this.”

But thankfully, the story doesn’t end here.

As word spread like wildfire (or lanternflies as the case may be), an entire community rallied behind the little girl. No one wanted to see her lose her spark for science.

The Caldwell Environmental Commission voted unanimously to award Bobbi with a Sustainability Award. The award recognizes people who have helped to improve the town’s environment.

But it was just the beginning.

Yale School of Public Health Honors Bobbi’s Efforts With a Ceremony

After hearing about what happened, Dr. Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor of public health at Yale University, reached out to the family. She invited Bobbi and Hayden to come to Yale last November for a tour to meet “other successful Black female scientists and to counter the horrible memories of that day.”

And then, on January 20th, Bobbi returned to Yale. Only this time it was to attend a ceremony in her honor.

The Yale School of Public Health held the ceremony to celebrate Bobbi’s efforts to eradicate lanternflies on January 20th, according to a news release from the university.

She also received the title “donor scientist” for donating her personal lanternfly collection to Yale’s Peabody Museum.

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“Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this … this is something unique to Bobbi,” said Dr. Ijeoma Opara, who organized the event. “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.”

Bobbi’s mother, Monique Joseph, is grateful for Opara’s support.

“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 shared at the event.

She’s also grateful for the entire scientific community that rallied for her daughters.

“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,’” she said.

A Young Black Girl Hopes Her Story Will Inspire Other Budding Scientists

In an interview with the New York Times, Bobbi shared that she was “excited to be recognized by Yale.” And it was “cool that I can help other scientists with research.”

She also hoped her story would help other young aspiring scientists “feel not afraid to pursue their dreams and not be afraid to try something just because they’re little. We can make a difference too.”

There’s no doubt that Bobbi Wilson, the girl with the lanternflies, is an inspiration. Not only to her peers but to everyone else as well.