When the police were called on a 9-year-old New Jersey girl, she didn’t let it stop her shine.
Her neighbor saw her spraying something on the sidewalk and trees and this apparently scared him, according to CNN. On the call to 911, he described the child as “a little Black woman.”
“There’s a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence…” he told the dispatcher.
Well, the “little Black woman” was actually 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson, a budding scientist. The fourth-grader had created her own insecticide to combat spotted lantern flies. She came across the recipe on TikTok and had recently learned that the invasive species damages trees because they feed on the sap found in leaves and tree trunks.
Bobbi was simply testing out her formula in her neighborhood when the police call was made.
“That’s her thing,” her mother Monique Joseph said. “She’s going to kill the lanternflies, especially if they’re on a tree. That’s what she’s going to do.”
Monique was surprised and upset to learn that her neighbor, who knows her family, was behind the call. He tried to apologize to the family, noting that he thought it was a lost little girl or someone with dementia. But the damage was done.
During a Caldwell City Council meeting, Monique called the incident “sickening and scary.” It reflects a history of racism in this country when it comes to Black people and is indeed scary.
“I am not here to label anyone, only to share my point of view as a Black woman, a Black mother, and a Black resident in this town,” Monique said at the meeting. “To bring awareness on racism and implicit bias that we experienced on the very street that we live on.”
Bobbi’s 13-year-old sister, Hayden Wilson, also spoke on her behalf, noting that Bobbi “was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero.”
Luckily, the October incident didn’t dampen Bobbi’s spirit and has led to some positive experiences for her.
She has since been recognized by several organizations for her environmental efforts. She has also been invited on special tours. One took place at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Another was given by the United States Department of Agriculture of New Jersey at an inspection plant where they discussed lanternflies.
But that’s not where her recognition ends! The Association of New Jersey’s Environmental Commission honored Bobbi with their Sustainability Award for her work to save trees and eradicate lanternflies.
“We were thrilled that she was doing that,” Ann Marchioni of the ANJEC said.
Ann added that the organization commends volunteers for being “hands-on” in their community.
In addition to the award, she and her family got to visit with a group of Black female scientists at Yale University. They showed her various labs and even invited her to submit lanternfly specimens for the university’s entomology work. Wow!
“When I saw [Bobbi’s] story, it really touched my heart because this is my life,” Yale assistant professor Dr. Ijeoma Opara shared. “This is my passion. Being able to empower Black girls, being able to protect them.”
Ijeoma is also a native of New Jersey and explained that she often stayed indoors as a child because of her parents’ fear of racism. She hopes Bobbi can move past this negative experience and continue to pursue her passions.
“I didn’t want [Bobbi] to lose that brilliance,” Ijeoma said. “I didn’t want her to lose that bravery, and having a cop called on you is a quick way to be traumatized.”
While this was a scarring experience, the family says they have grown from it.
“[We’ve] been blessed with the positive side of it,” Monique said. “It feels like my community has grown overnight. I feel like the extension of my family has grown overnight. This didn’t happen to us; it happened for us. It happened to our community. People were able to attach themselves to it because it didn’t have grief with it: This little girl lived.”
Racism is an unfortunate truth that still exists in today’s world. Thankfully, in this case, it didn’t win.
Share this story to wish Bobbi well on her continued lantern fly research. May she continue to soar!
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