Last month, the Yale University School of Public Health held a ceremony to honor 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson for her efforts in curbing the spread of the invasive spotted lanternfly, NPR reports. The budding science-lover's story went viral after her neighbor, a former town council member, called the police to report her while she was collecting specimens in her hometown.
In October, Bobbi was inspired to participate in New Jersey's Stomp it Out! campaign, which urged residents to help eradicate the infestation, and took to the streets of her Caldwell, NJ neighborhood to spray trees with a homemade bug spray. When her neighbor Gordon Lawshe spotted her, she was collecting the insects in jars.
"There's a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence. I don't know what the hell she's doing. Scares me, though," Lawshe said to non-emergency dispatchers, according to footage obtained by CNN.
The police came and spoke with Bobbi and her mother, Monique Joseph, and while they eventually left without incident, the family was still shaken. Bobbi's older sister Hayden Wilson, 13, called Lawshe's actions "extremely offensive, traumatic, and scarring" for her family at a city council meeting. The viral video of Hayden's speech caught the attention of Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor of public health at Yale, per NBC News. Opara invited the family for a campus tour and introduced them to a group of Black female scientists who now call themselves Bobbi's "Yale Aunties."
"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," Opara said in a statement.
Joseph expressed gratitude for the support her family has received. "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,'" she said.