Sculptor says his Las Colinas mustangs ‘created such an impact in the area and people love it’

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 24, 2015

Las Colinas is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its mustang statue one year late because of last year’s road construction. But organizers had several events lined up this week, including an opportunity to meet the sculptor, Robert Glen.

In case you missed him, neighborsgo conducted a brief question-and-answer with him.

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Q: How does it feel that the sculptures have stood the test of time?

A: The bad thing about that is that I’m 30 years older. If I’m in the United States, one way or another, we take the trouble to come out here and touch the horses and check it out. What becomes more amazing all the time is that it has created such an impact in the area and people love it. Everywhere I look, there are emblems of the horses in the area. As far back as when Ben Carpenter was still around and I would stay with him when I was in town, he and I used to come down here every night just to look at the horses. He just wanted to see them like I did.

Q: Now from my understanding, you’re from Africa?

A: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and lived there most of my life so far. For the last 25 years, I’ve been living in [a] Tanzania National Park, where I do my sculpture animals from life and Sue [Stolberger, his partner] paints from life. Even the horses.

These horses were actually the original mustangs in America. That breed, from the south of Spain in a place called Jerez, was brought here by the Spanish conquistadors. So I went there to study those particular horses, the Andalucía horses. Every horse is born a different color but they end up white, which is interesting. When they brought the original horses, they were stallions for fighting and conquering.

Q: How long were you in Spain?

A: For three weeks. It was fantastic. The family I stayed with has continued the breeding line of those horses that started about 2,000 years ago.

Q: How important was that trip for the outcome of the statues?

A: I think everything. It helped me know what this particular breed of horse is like and helped me depict it in very close representation. They galloped the horses around for me and showed me their behavior. So I had a pretty intensive study for that time.

From day one of the project, it took seven years to make these horses. And from day one, we traveled with a film team who filmed the whole project all the way through in different stages, and a lot of still photographs. They were there in England during the bronzing at the foundry too. [The film can be seen at]

I went to school in Kenya. I had other things to do in my life than school. I started getting involved with birds at the museum when I was 12. My parents then realized I was a little bit strange because I didn’t want to get involved with school. So I was introduced to the ornithologist, who is probably more responsible for my natural history life than anybody.

Eventually, I went to Denver, Colo., when I was 16. I was accepted by taxidermist and animal sculptor Coleman Jonas. I thought I knew everything and he very quickly straightened me out. That three years was everything about where I am today, because of what he said to me and what he taught me about how to look and what to do.

Flower Mound resident runs support group for sexually abused and assaulted women

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 3, 2015

Flower Mound resident Michelle Robinson runs Shelter from the Storm, a support group for sexually abused and assaulted women. Robinson, 36, said she was abused and gang-raped as a child.

“We don’t claim this is a counseling group or to have all the answers,” Robinson said. “But giving real-life examples of how we dealt with our abuse is beneficial to women.”

The support group is affiliated with Irving Bible Church and takes its name from a Christian-based, 12-unit workbook written by Cynthia Kubetin Littlefield and James Mallory.

Kubetin Littlefield said the Shelter from the Storm support group is what she intended when she wrote the book, and that it’s designed to be worked through multiple times. She also released a DVD series to accompany it in group settings.

“I’ve seen it tremendously help women, particularly in the group settings,” she said. “I think it should be mandatory for people to be in a support group because healing won’t really come if you’re not. In support groups, you get so many different views and accounts that may help with your own.”

Robinson said that despite the workbook’s religious base she’s helped women of all faiths, as well as many women who are atheist or agnostic.

“Those women think that if God is real, he could have stopped it and didn’t,” she said. “So we don’t shove scripture down their throat.”

Robinson leads with what she wishes she had heard when she was healing from her abuse, she said.

“The facilitator’s guide is good for those ‘church answers,’ ” she said. “But when you’re dealing with hearts and people, you kind of just need to be real about it.”

Shelter from the Storm offers two-hour classes each week for 12 weeks, one for each chapter of the workbook. Shelter from the Storm usually has three groups a semester with nine women in each. Robinson meets with every woman before placement to make sure similar survivors can support each other.

The organization started in 2006 after Irving Bible Church began a recovery ministry called Celebrate Recovery.

“Survivors found that it didn’t hone in enough on sexual abuse,” Robinson said.

So Robinson met with a woman who found the curriculum, planning to lead classes based on Shelter from the Storm after they finished testing the workbook together. She’s now run the support group for eight years.

“I only do one class at a time because I’m essentially working through my own sexual abuse each time I lead the class,” she said.

Robinson selects and leads other group leaders, meeting with them to get updates on their groups. The group leaders are all women who have been through the program.

“Some support groups use counselors and spiritual leaders to run these groups,” she said. “But until you’ve been put into this situation, you really just don’t get it.”

Shelter from the Storm is also unique because classes close, Robinson said.

“We promised the ladies that nobody new will come in so we can build trust from the very beginning,” Robinson said. “If a woman is late or misses a class, we call them and check in. We love them so much we’re going to push them to be here and on time every single week.”

Robinson said it took her three years of teaching classes to feel healed. When she flips back through her workbook answers, she’s proud to see how she became more honest in her healing over time.

“So I always encourage ladies to be 100 percent honest from the get-go,” she said. “They’re only going to reach that peak of recovery faster if they’re more honest and open.”

Robinson finds that the women are always more honest and vigilant in their recovery in repeat classes.

Chapter 6, when they first share their stories, is when recovery starts to become noticeable, Robinson said.

“Many times, it’s the absolute first time they’ve ever shared their story,” Robinson said. “They break down crying immediately after they finish sharing because they feel relief and freedom.”

Chapter 7, which covers coping with anger, is almost as impactful, Robinson said.

“Survivors don’t understand that it’s healthy to still feel anger after [they] tell their story,” she said. “But they’re angry at everybody because they don’t place the blame where it belongs.”

There is an average of 293,000 sexual assault victims ages 12 and older each year, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Someone known to the victim commits an estimated 80 percent of assaults. While it’s difficult to know how many sexual assaults actually occur, RAINN estimates that 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

Robinson said that many try writing letters to their abusers for closure but don’t get a response. When they do, the accused only admits to part of the allegation, if at all. Most survivors resort to simulated confrontations. Robinson meets with them alone and takes on the role of their abuser.

“They get really into it and start yelling at me, I’m the [jerk] that did it and that they remember everything,” she said. “It’s a little weird, but it’s all about them just having a voice, and they always feel so much better about life afterward.”

Robinson said she frequently meets women who have been date-raped in Flower Mound. But the women rarely file police reports, she said.

Flower Mound Police Captain Wess Griffin said that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes nationally. Only 36 percent of rapes are reported to police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

To date, there have been 23 sexual assaults reported this year in Flower Mound, according to the Flower Mound Police Department. Since 2005, there have been 209 reported sexual assaults in the town. The most assaults, 28, occurred in 2010. The fewest occurred in 2012 — nine assaults.

“The FMPD partners with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Denton County, Friends of the Family, SANE nurses and the Denton County District Attorney’s office to offer victims a network of social services designed to help make the victim whole again after an offense has occurred,” Griffin said. “We encourage victims to come forward and report abuse or assaults so that we can assist them as quickly as possible.”

Griffin said reporting sexual assaults quickly is crucial, but the health and well-being of the victim is most important.

“Oftentimes, victims may take days or weeks before making an outcry to a friend or family member, and this delays the delivery of critical services to the victim and may hinder the investigation of the offense,” Griffin said.

In Texas, there are no statutes of limitations for most sexual assaults and abuse, according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures. There is also no statute of limitations if a rape kit has been collected and subjected to DNA testing.

“But they get scared because it’s their word against the abusers and it’s hard to prove if they didn’t immediately go get a rape kit,” Robinson said. “Sometimes they ask me to go with them. They make it into the police station and walk back out before talking to the police.”

So, Robinson hopes the biggest lesson survivors learn is to tell someone about the abuse immediately.

“Keep telling people, even if it’s embarrassing, until someone believes you and takes action on your behalf,” Robinson said. “The abuser can’t continue without getting justice like they did with me.”

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Code violations at Irving Bazaar prompt lucha libre matches to move on

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 4, 2015

For fans of the Mexican style of wrestling known as lucha libre, there’s one less venue available.

Irving Bazaar removed its wrestling ring in mid-October after a small electrical fire broke out on Sept. 30, prompting a fire code inspection.

Ricardo Cardenas, who formerly promoted the shows at the bazaar, said removing the ring was a blow to the Latino community. But he’s promoting monthly matches at Malone’s Bazaar in Dallas and looking for a new Irving venue.

For the past 18 years, Irving Bazaar has had its difficulties. The venue had been on an upswing, thanks to lucha libre matches — from local talent or renowned luchadores from Mexico like El Hijo de Dr. Wagner Jr.

“It feels bad because we’ve been there for quite a long time,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of calls from people who don’t know what to do on their Saturdays anymore. We were all so used to just going to the matches every week.”

Irving fire marshal Derek Austin said nobody was injured during the fire. But during the subsequent inspection, the department identified roughly 300 code violations, he said.

The ring had to be removed because it was an illegal use of the building, Austin said. The bazaar is classified as merchant facility to sell product. To have the wrestling matches legally, the building would require an assembly code designation.

“The building does not meet the code requirements for assembly purposes,” Austin said. “[To hold the wrestling matches], they would have to make changes and reapply and pass the assembly occupancy code inspection.”

Austin said that the department didn’t issue any fines after the inspection and the bazaar addressed immediate dangers.

“We work with the businesses in a reasonable time limit,” Austin said. “It’s not our goal to run businesses out of town and we’re still working out the minor violations.”

Brenda Soto, a spokesperson for the Bazaar, said the company working with the fire department to address the violations and make changes.

“We’re still recovering from the after effects of this fire and are trying to bring in other entertainment alternatives for our customers,” she said. “We are working on bringing back music and hosting other entertainment like mariachi’s and face painting in one of our event rooms that we plan to open to the public soon.”

Small but fervent crowd backs Irving mayor’s stance on Islam

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 5, 2015

Attendance at a rally Saturday to support Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne was a little on the low side. The mayor herself didn’t show up.

But the enthusiasm outside City Hall was abundant.

“Most young people don’t know what the good America is,” rally organizer Valerie Villarreal said. “The mayor has given us a taste of that America again, and we don’t want to let that go.”

Van Duyne has been a figure in the public debate over Islam and the treatment of Muslims since rumors of an illegal Shariah court at the Irving Islamic Center began spreading in January.

The rumors, though false, gained popularity after she made the issue of Shariah courts part of a speaking tour.

And since a 14-year-old Muslim was taken into custody in September in Irving ISD for bringing a homemade clock to school, the city that Van Duyne leads has become an international symbol of Islamophobia for many.

Saturday’s rally started as a counterprotest to one planned by Accion America “to speak out against hate and intolerance” in Irving.

That event was rescheduled for next Saturday at the Islamic Center, but the conservative group Overpasses for America followed through with its pro-Van Duyne event.

“We’re just patriotic Americans standing up for America and Irving,” Villarreal said.

Organizers said they’d expected more than 100 people to attend and were disappointed at the turnout, which never reached more than 40.

They blamed police-imposed parking restrictions at City Hall. But officers watching over the rally seemed supportive — encouraging people to stand along Irving Boulevard for better visibility.

Passing cars frequently honked in support, though some drivers did gesture obscenely toward the demonstrators.

McKinney resident Mel Robins, vice president and co-founder of Sons of Liberty Riders, said he believed that support for Van Duyne had been growing.

He was among 14 members of the motorcycle club who attended.

“I’ve been hoping something would happen so that we could come and show support for everything she’s done and what she’s all about,” he said. “We’ve watched the mayor of Irving stand tall and say there isn’t going to be any Shariah law practiced in the city of Irving. That took guts, and we admire that.”