I’ve been attending meetings about bringing a cultural center to Austin. John Young and Earline Ruffin have established one in the Citizens National Bank building at Chicago and Laramie. That bank building already has “landmark” status, so it’s only natural for it to be used as a staging area to highlight the culture of African-Americans on the West Side.

At the last meeting, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum and a commissioner for the Chicago Park District, attended and gave us our official ‘go ahead’ blessing. Thus, the Austin Landmark Cultural Center was born.

The best part about being involved in a cultural center is that it will be a celebration of African-American culture. Rather than focusing on the “what’s wrong with us?” syndrome, we will celebrate and highlight all the “what’s right with us” behaviors. As members of the group spoke about the different backgrounds that we came from, we rejoiced in those that bonded us together.

One of the major components in uniting all of us as black people is food. Our cultural connection can be seen on most black folks Thanksgiving Day menu. Turkey, dressing, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, yeast rolls, sweet potato pie, pound cake and peach cobbler will be on a lot of tables – blessed is the cook who can prepare each and every one of those dishes to perfection, or more so to those that has the time to do it.

If you are like me, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is another work day. So my time is limited to how much I can get done in advance. To help solve the dilemma for myself and others who can’t get it all done, the Austin Landmark Cultural Center is going to sponsor a ‘Taste of Thanksgiving Day Sides’. Here’s how it works.

On Saturday Nov. 11, the Cultural Center will sponsor a ‘Taste’ of those items I mentioned. We are suggesting a donation of $1 (or more) to come to our ‘Taste’. The admission fee will be used by the Austin Landmark Cultural Center to pay for future events. At the Taste, there will be cooks from the community who will sell you a sample of their ‘Sides’. We want each cook to focus on just one Side. If you like the sample, you can then order that side dish, and it will be available for pick up or delivery the day before Thanksgiving at the Cultural Center. The Cultural Center already has refrigeration units, so storage will not be a problem.

So we’re now putting a ‘shout out’ to cooks who know how to throw-down on any of those items and want to participate. All the answers to the fine points are still being worked out, but here are some that I can tell you right away.

There will not be a fee for the cooks to participate up front. Since this is our first time doing this, we ask that those cooks make a donation to the Cultural Center based on how well they do in sales. We are especially trying to highlight those individuals in the community who are struggling entrepreneurs and need a location to showcase their specialties.

We also ask for those who want to participate to contact us about letting us taste your item in advance. We are not looking for food cooked like our ‘Big Mamas’ made. But we do want each item to be one that we feel the majority of folks coming to sample would appreciate. We will have a participation tasting on Saturday Oct. 21, 28 and Nov. 4 for the participants. We are only having 10 participants at the most, each specializing in one item. Saturday Nov. 11 is the Taste for the community, and Wednesday Nov. 22 is the delivery date for the prepared item.

Each vendor will set their own price for their specialty, as well as the size dish being sold. We at Austin Landmark Cultural Center are acting solely as the venue for you to “show your stuff”. Even if you choose not to order for Thanksgiving, we have Christmas and New Year approaching, and you can sample with thoughts of ordering for those holidays as well. Here’s a chance to pick up a business card and meet someone that makes a mean banana pudding. Or for myself, I want to find the person who can supply a peach cobbler loaded with fruit, topped off by a flaky crust.

I know you all have tons of questions, so this Sunday all you cooks, caterers and bakers who want to participate, can call and we can talk about it. I’ll also have on the line Ms. Earline Ruffin, director of Austin Landmark Cultural Center, to address your questions/concerns. As always, the time is 9 p.m. Call 605/772-3200 (this is long distance so use your cell) and enter this Access code: 806598#.

For cell phone users, this is just like a local call just using your weekend minutes. If you’re not a cook but want to call and offer comments, we welcome you as well. You can also reach the Austin Landmark Cultural Center at 773/378-0212 or 773/787-7054.

CONTACT: westside2day@yahoo.com