Yale University has honored Bobbi Wilson, a 9-year-old Black girl who had the police called on her after spraying invasive spotted lanternflies.
The Yale School of Public Health held a ceremony to celebrate Bobbi’s efforts to eradicate the invasive species on January 20th, according to a news release from the university.
The ceremony also served as an opportunity to recognize Bobbi’s donation of her personal spotted lanternfly collection to Yale’s Peabody museum.
“Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this … this is something unique to Bobbi,” said Yale School of Public Health Assistant Professor Ijeoma Opara, who organized the event, in the university’s release. “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.”
In October, Bobbi was testing a homemade repellent to spray spotted lanternflies in her hometown of Caldwell, New Jersey. State agricultural departments across the country urged Americans to kill the invasive insects, which pose a threat to native trees and plants.
But Bobbi’s quest to help remove the invasive species was interrupted when a neighbor called the police reporting “a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence.”
Bobbi’s mother, Monique Joseph, previously told CNN the incident confused and distressed her daughter.
The incident drew attention to the “adultification” of young Black girls, who experts say are treated more harshly by police than their white counterparts.
The ceremony was Bobbi’s second visit to Yale. She was invited to tour the university shortly by Opara after the police incident.
At the ceremony, Joseph praised Opara, who runs a mentorship program for Black teenage girls, for welcoming and supporting her Bobbi as well as her 13-year-old daughter Hayden.
“Dr. Opara, you have been a blessing,” she said, according to the news release. “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.
For Joseph, the incident has become an opportunity to speak out against racism in her town and across the country.
“I am aware this happened for us, not to us,” she said at the ceremony, according to the release. “The reason that Bobbi is here, and we are not grieving, is because someone above wanted us to be a part of changing racism in our town … It is because we have Bobbi that we are able to stand here and do something about it, to speak up for ourselves.”
“I don’t just speak up for Bobbi. I don’t just speak up for my daughters. I speak up for children,” Joseph continued. “I speak up for anyone that checks that ‘other’ box, that has racism against them, biases against them.”
Bobbi’s collection of spotted lanternflies has already been expertly mounted and is on public display at the Peabody Museum, according to the release.
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