The spotted lanternfly has been in the news a lot recently. The brightly hued yet deeply invasive and destructive species has spread quickly. Damaging apple and maple trees among many other types of plants, the public was even encouraged to stomp them any time they saw the flash of red and spotted wings. One young scientist decided to do a version of that in her community of Caldwell, New Jersey. While she exterminated the creatures with a non-toxic, homemade spray, a neighbor called the cops to report a “suspicious” person. That person—a 9-year-old Black girl named Bobbi Wilson—faced a traumatic incidence of racial profiling familiar to many people of color. In spite of this traumatizing event, Yale University has stepped up to make sure Bobbi knows how special and appreciated she is as a young, Black female scientist.
After the racist incident in October 2022, Bobbi's 13-year-old sister Hayden courageously stood up in a town council meeting to decry the injustice her sister and other children of color faced in their town. Her powerful words caught the attention of news outlets such as CNN. Yale School of Public Health Assistant Professor Ijeoma Opara saw the story and invited Bobbi and her family to visit Yale. On January 20, 2023, the girls returned to the elite campus for a special ceremony honoring Bobbi and her passion for both science and her community.
At the ceremony, Bobbi presented Yale’s Peabody Museum with her personal collection of mounted spotted lanternflies. The donation will forever bear her name in the museum catalogue. “Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this…this is something unique to Bobbi,” said Professor Opara. “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.”
The Peabody Museum’s Entomology Collections Manager Lawrence Gall and the museum’s Assistant Director of Student Programs Nicole Palffy-Muhoray then invited Bobbi to place a label on one of her 27 specimens. “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,” Gall said. “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's mother Monique Joseph spoke at the honor ceremony. She detailed the fear she felt as her family was the victim of the racist incident, and for all children who are stereotyped. She praised Hayden for her brave words. “Dr. Opara, you have been a blessing,” she said. “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 added, “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.’”
Nine-year-old budding scientist Bobbi Wilson visited Yale University to be honored for her efforts to eliminate the invasive spotted lanternfly in her community, efforts which prompted a bigoted neighbor to report the child to the cops.
h/t: [The Guardian]
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