A chance interaction between Carlos Whittaker, a motivational speaker and influencer who was traveling home to Tennessee and Tonee “Valentine” Carter, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport resulted in another shining example of kindness in the world. Whittaker sat at the piano bar in Concourse A listening to Carter play. Whitaker struck up a conversation with him and noticed Carter’s empty tip jar. Whitaker asked his followers to cash app and Venmo a tip for him.
Whitaker, 46, who had been traveling home after a speaking engagement was cancelled said “I was super bummed 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. There was Tonee, going down and going to town and I knew I just had to stay there.” Eventually, the two men began talking, even sharing intimate details about their lives. “Suddenly I was like, what would happen if I asked my Instagram followers if we could give him the biggest tip he’s ever gotten,” Whitaker said. Thirty minutes later and after a 20 minute conversation getting to know Carter, who has kidney disease and is on dialysis 9 hours every night but still comes into work everyday, amassed a $10,000 tip that has grown to $61,000.
Whittaker captured the moment he told Carter that a bunch of people he had never met quickly came together to raise thousands of dollars just for him. “I just lost it. I thought he was kidding, I just couldn’t believe it. That just doesn’t happen, I didn’t know how to feel. This is the kind of thing I do. I love giving and donating and helping people, but I never expected someone to do it for me” Carter said. Before Whittaker boarded his plane, he told his followers they could continue to tip Carter on Venmo and CashApp. “By the time I landed in Nashville, it was $20,000 and by the time I interviewed him for my podcast that night, it was $44,000. As of now it’s at $61,000,” Whittaker said.
Carter, 66, was working as a pianist on a cruise ship in 2008 when he learned his kidneys were functioning at just 10%. For decades before then, he played in bands and worked cruise ships but the diagnosis turned his life upside down. Now his evenings are reserved for the life-saving dialysis treatments. Carter said that no matter what’s going on in the world, music reminds him that life is good.
When talking about his chance meeting with Whitaker, Carter said he put on a suit and headed to the airport, where he’s worked as a pianist for the last 13 years like any other day. He didn’t expect anything extraordinary to happen. Then Whittaker, who Carter calls an “angel,” walked past and everything changed. “It was a typical day and this guy walked up and introduced himself and asked me what my story was and I said ‘I really don’t have a story, I’m quite boring. All I do is play piano.’” He added, “That $60,000 is not mine. It’s money that’s going to go to others. There is only one way to say thank you, because words are inadequate- and that is to pay this forward.”