A chance encounter between a motivational speaker and a piano player at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport was anything but ordinary.
Tonee Carter is a regular fixture at the airport where he plays the piano almost everyday in Concourse A. Among the small audience that day was Instagram influencer and self-professed “hope dealer” Carlos Whitaker, who was traveling home to Nashville.
“I was super bummed [by a scheduled speaking engagement being canceled in Arkansas] that morning and had to reroute to Atlanta. As I was walking through the concourse, I heard someone playing the piano, and I just had to walk by them,” Whittaker told CNN. That walk by turned into a hypnotizing hour and a half. Taken aback by Carter’s talent, he decided to approach the gentleman to spark a brief conversation and to offer him a monetary donation.
Carter shared that his skills on the ivory keys was not by chance, but that he was a former musician. His music delighted Whitaker, but what truly moved him was the 66-year-old’s story.
Carter shared that he has kidney disease and undergoes nightly dialysis for nine hours. Yet he still manages to find the time to show up to the airport everyday to play the piano for travelers passing through. Whitaker shared the encounter on social media where he wrote that Carter “radiates life.”
So in return for the gift Carter so willingly shares with perfect strangers, Whitaker asked his social following if they would donate money via digital cash apps to surprise the pianist with an unexpected tip. Whitaker’s following more than obliged him. Within hours complete strangers had raised upwards of $50,000, and the pot only continued to grow.
When Whitaker shared the news with his new pal, Carter, very much taken aback, began to cry in disbelief. In the end, by the time Whitaker got back to Nashville and reached Carter again, the donation had reached $61,000.
On social, Whitaker wrote, “You guys [his 200K followers] are the definition of Hope. Thank you for being on this journey with me. Cheers to Tonee…And cheers to Human Hope.”
Comments of gratitude flooded Whitaker’s posts.
“😭😭😭We don’t know you, but we love you Tonee!”
“Wow, this is beautiful. You are always making miracles happen, Carlos.🙏✨”
“Shall we find. Him a kidney too??💪” suggested one person. Whitaker responded by saying that Carter had made the decision to not seek kidney replacement, but that the sentiment was appreciated nonetheless.
“Blessed to be a Blessing!!! Thank you for doing that for him. God’s Love at work 🙌🏾 I pray to be able to bless someone like that one day.”