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Young girl who had the cops called on her for studying lanternflies wins a major award

“We were thrilled that she was doing that.”

bobbi wilson, lanternflies, gordon lawshe

Body cam footage of the police approaching 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson and her mother.

On October 22, 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson was excited to go out into her Caldwell, New Jersey, neighborhood to see if a mixture she put together would be effective at killing spotted lanternflies. She had learned about the dangers that the lanternflies pose to the local tree population during the summer and created an insecticide that she learned about on TikTok.

Spotted lanternflies are an invasive species dangerous to trees because they feed on their sap.

“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.”

While Wilson was peacefully working on her sustainability experiment, her neighbor, Gordon Lawshe, called the police on her. “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,” he said, according to CNN.

Lawshe told the dispatcher she was a “real tiny woman” and wearing a “hood.”


When the police arrived, they were calm and did their best not to upset the young girl. They assured Wilson and Joseph that they had done nothing wrong. But the mother couldn’t believe that the police were called on them by a neighbor they knew.

“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," Lawshe’s attorney, Gregory Mascera, told CNN.


Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, says that the incident may have been an instance of “adultification bias” where young Black girls are treated like they are much older than white girls of the same age.

“It’s a very pervasive form of bias that does not know boundaries, in terms of which fields it occurs in. In emergency rooms, we’re seeing it affect the treatment and diagnosis of Black girls. In schools, we’re seeing it come up in the form of harsher and more frequent discipline against Black girls,” Epstein said in an interview with CNN.

The fact that a 9-year-old girl had the police called on her for any act is a depressing sign of the times in America. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. In the aftermath of the incident, a community of people stood up for Wilson and praised her for her dedication to sustainability.

A group of Black female scientists at Yale hosted Wilson and her family in November. She toured various laboratories and was invited to submit lanternfly specimens to the university's entomology department.

The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions honored Wilson with its Sustainability Award after it learned about her work with spotted lanternflies.

“We were thrilled that she was doing that,” Ann Marchioni of the ANJEC told the Daily Beast.

Wilson was given the award on Tuesday, December 6, and science communicator Jason Bittel was on hand to talk about spotted lanternflies and how he got into science writing.

“When I saw what happened with Bobbi, my heart immediately just sank," Bittel said, according to New Jersey Hills, "because what I saw in her I was doing as a young boy. We were celebrated, if anything, no one called the police on us or chided us in any way."

Bittel said that Wilson’s dreams could have been crushed the day the police were called on her. But the community stepped up to preserve her passion for science. To promote her interest in science, Bittel presented Wilson with a tub full of interactive materials and gave books to her mother so her daughter could learn more.

"When this incident originally happened, I had one goal. It was to change the trajectory of that day for Bobbi," Joseph said. "I can't say I've done it all myself. It wasn't just me, it was the community. … It was friends near and far that understood what happened."


This article originally appeared on 12.13.22

True

Do you ever feel like you could be doing more when it comes to making a positive impact on your community? The messaging around giving back is louder than ever this time of year, and for good reason; It is the season of giving, after all.

If you’ve ever wondered who is responsible for bringing many of the giving-back initiatives to life, it’s probably not who you’d expect. The masterminds behind these types of campaigns are project managers.

Using their talents and skills, often proven by earning certifications from the Project Management Institute (PMI), project managers are driving real change and increasing the success rate on projects that truly improve our world.

To celebrate the work that project managers are doing behind the scenes to make a difference, we spoke with two people doing more than their part to make an impact.

In his current role as a Project Management Professional (PMP)-certified project manager and environmental engineer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Joshua Williard oversees the cleanup of some of America’s most contaminated and hazardous waste sites.

Courtesy of Joshua Williard

“Recently, I was part of a four-person diving team sent to collect contaminated sediment samples from the bottom of a river in Southeastern Virginia. We wanted to ensure a containment wall was successfully blocking the release of waste into an adjacent river,” Williard says.

Through his work, Josh drives restoration efforts to completion so contaminated land can again be used beneficially, and so future generations will not be at risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

“I’ve been inspired by the natural world from a young age and always loved being outside. As I gained an understanding about Earth's trajectory, I realized that I wanted to be part of trying to save it and keep it for future generations.

“I learned the importance of using different management styles to address various project challenges. I saw the value in building meaningful relationships with key community members. I came to see that effective project management can make a real difference in getting things done and having on-the-ground impact,” Williard says.

In addition, Monica Chan’s career in project management has enabled her to work at the forefront of conservation efforts with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US). She most recently has been managing a climate change project, working with a diverse team including scientists, policy experts, data analysts, biologists, communicators, and more. The goal is to leverage grants to protect and restore mangroves, forests, and ecosystems, and drive demand in seaweed farming – all to harness nature's power to address the climate crisis.

Courtesy of Monica Chan

“As the project management lead for WWF-US, I am collaborating across the organization to build a project management framework that adapts to our diverse projects. Given that WWF's overarching objectives center on conserving nature and addressing imminent threats to the diversity of life on Earth, the stakes are exceptionally high in how we approach projects,” says Chan.

“Throughout my journey, I've discovered a deep passion for project management's ability to unite people for shared goals, contributing meaningfully to environmental conservation,” she says.

With skills learned from on-the-job experience and resources from PMI, project managers are the central point of connection for social impact campaigns, driving them forward and solving problems along the way. They are integral to bringing these projects to life, and they find support from their peers in PMI’s community.

PMI has a global network of more than 300 chapters and serves as a community for project managers – at every stage of their career. Members can share knowledge, celebrate impact, and learn together through resources, events, and other programs such as PMI’s Hours for Impact program, which encourages PMI members to volunteer their time to projects directly supporting the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“By tapping into PMI's extensive network and resources, I've expanded my project management knowledge and skills, gaining insights from seasoned professionals in diverse industries, including environmental management. Exposure to different perspectives has kept me informed about industry trends, best practices, and allowed me to tailor my approach to the unique challenges of the non-profit sector,” Chan says.

“Obtaining my PMP certification has been a game-changer, propelling not only my career growth, but also reshaping my approach to daily projects, both personally and professionally,” Chan says. Research from PMI shows that a career in project management means being part of an industry on the rise, as the global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030 and the median salary for project practitioners in the U.S. is $120K.

PMI’s mission is to help professionals build project management skills through online courses, networking, and other learning opportunities, help them prove their proficiency in project management through certifications, and champion the work that project professionals, like Joshua and Monica, do around the world.

For those interested in pursuing a career in project management to help make a difference, PMI’s Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification could be the starting point to help get your foot in the door.

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