The Detroit Documenters program trains and pays Detroiters to attend local public meetings and monitor our elected officials, in collaboration with local journalists. Hundreds of local residents are active in the program, bringing more transparency to local government through their meeting notes, live tweets and civic participation.
This October, we’re featuring Documenter, community educator and family man Eric Walton.
Eric Walton had been a community organizer and teacher for more than a decade when his wife Kristine was diagnosed with kidney disease. The couple quickly learned everything they could about how to keep her healthy and prolong her life. Eric changed careers to become a youth program specialist at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. Two years later, Eric is still with the foundation, promoting nutrition and healthy cooking through community classes and other programs.
He says the work at NKFM and what he does as a Detroit Documenter is similar. “It’s about community and spreading awareness. I do the same, hopefully, for both organizations.”
Eric said some of the most impactful meetings he’s documented have been those of the Highland Park City Council. He said the vivid characters and spirited debate kept him engaged during the four hours. He was surprised to see national news coverage of the city’s water debt to the Great Lakes Water Authority after he covered the council’s debate during a meeting.
He said that’s when the quote by former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill he learned in his college politics classes became clear to him: “All politics are local.”
An October 2022 Detroit Public Schools Community District board meeting also left an impression. Several alumni from the old Finney High School advocated to change the name of East English Village Preparatory Academy to the former school’s name. Eric said he learned the legacy of former U.S. Attorney Jared Finney in Detroit, and that it was powerful to watch the community come together in that forum. “People can have an effect on decisions in those meetings,” he mused. (At a later meeting, the board voted in favor of a compromise on a name change that included Finney.)
Community and learning are big parts of Eric’s life. He serves as president of the Harper Woods Public Library Board of Trustees, where he’s been a member since 2014. He’s also a member of the Suburban Library Cooperative, a community coalition of more than 20 libraries in southeast Michigan. Eric said he supports the library because “it’s important to have a place to go where you can collect and gain knowledge.”
Eric describes himself as a “family man.” He and his wife have five children. He’s balancing a few gigs, but when it comes to work-life balance, Eric said his family gives him strength. Since all his work is about sharing information, he finds opportunities for his children — ages 11 to 19 — to learn along with him. Documenters is only a small part of his life, says Eric, but he enjoys the assignments and connecting with other Documenters in this community of practice.
Scroll down to learn more about Eric…
Eric T. Walton
What I do
I am a program specialist for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. I like to spin records on the weekend. I’m married and a father of five.
What I love about it
I enjoy being out in the community talking about healthy habits and living a healthy lifestyle. One out of three people often have kidney disease and don’t even know it.
One thing I want to get from the Documenters community
I also enjoy working as a Documenter because I believe the grassroots is where it’s at. I think that people should be privy to what goes on in their communities and with local, state and national government.
One thing I can give to the Documenters community
I am also a certified teacher, and I have a masters in teaching from Wayne State University. I am president of Harper Woods Public Library Board of Trustees and co-chair of the Suburban Library Cooperative that is made up of over 20 libraries in southeast Michigan. I am looking to improve on my note-taking skills and hopefully be picked for more assignments.
Which music album do you go back to over and over again?
I often go back and listen to Nas’s debut album: “Illmatic.” Although I’m not from Queens (in New York City), the picture he painted about his neighborhood and his city made me feel like I was.
Do you have any questions people in the Documenters network can help answer?
Will there be another Documenters get together? The last one I went to was at Coriander off Alter Road, and I really enjoyed it. So many different people and personalities that I don’t encounter every day.