How an Instagram Influencer Raised Over $70,000 for an Unknowing Atlanta Airport Pianist

A the time, Carlos Whittaker had over 170,000 Instagram followers and with their help, he was able to raise money for musician Tonee Valentine.

A chance meeting in the Atlanta airport plus kind-hearted Instagram followers equaled over $70,000 to help worthy people.

Tonee Valentine has played piano worldwide and sends airport travelers to their next destination with a catchy tune in their ears. Carlos Whittaker had his flight changed and got to listen to some of Tonee’s music. 

“I was like, ‘Man, he's amazing,’" Carlos Whittaker said. “And he just was having the time of his life. He was singing!”

Afterward, when Tonee went on break, the two men chatted. And when Tonee went back to play, Carlos noticed he had about $15 in his tip jar. He then thought, “Man, I need to tip this guy a good tip.”

Carlos says he then decided to stream video of Tonee playing to his 170,000 Instagram followers, whom he calls his InstaFamilia.

“I was like, ‘I wonder how much money we could raise in his tip jar in 30 minutes.’ So I put it out there. I said, ‘Let's do it. Here's my Venmo, and then I'll Venmo him.’”

Afterward, Carlos told Tonee about the money they raised.

“I need to let you know I’m about to give you $10,000,” Carlos told Tonee. To which, a surprised Tonee replied with, “What the f*** you talking about?!”

Carlos explained what happened and informed Tonee that 170,000 strangers loved his piano playing.

“I got emotional, and it blew my socks off,” Tonee said. “Sure enough, I had more than $10,000 at the end of the night.”

Carlos kept raising money for about 24 hours and raised over $70,000. But Tonee said he has no plans of keeping the InstaFamilia's tips.

“My CPA has already set up a fund and set up the money to grow. And over the years, I'm going to be able to do a lot of good with that. And so I'm taking care of the homeless and the American Kidney Foundation for people who suffer from kidney disease.”

Kidney disease has been important to Tonee, he says, ever since a doctor’s visit in 2008. 

“The doctor told me by the numbers that he was looking at, he said, ‘I'm afraid you're not going to pass this physical because you've got some renal issues, some kidney issues.’ And I had no idea," he said.

Tonee relies on dialysis to do the work his failing kidneys no longer can. And he says his life is dialysis and playing piano.

“He told me that he's on dialysis eight hours a night, and it just really touched me,” Carlos said. “It moved me, and I thought, ‘He wasn't asking anybody for money to help him.’”

Carlos says he doesn’t play around when it comes to conversation and relationships and that with each person he speaks to, he wants to leave a bit of hope.

“Hope is based on those around us, and so when we surround ourselves with people that are filled with hope, we're a lot closer to hope than you ever think you are," Carlos said.

As for Tonee, he’s new to Instagram, and the power social media can wield.

“I've had Instagram for one year,” he said. “I don't know how to use it. I don't know how to open it. My granddaughter had to come over and show me how to do that stuff, man.”

Tonee probably won’t be scrolling through feeds, but you can catch him at his piano and doing some good.

“This money ain't mine,” Tonee said. “This money is going to be paid forward. And I'm just honored that God trusts me and knows that I'll do the right thing. And I want Instafamilia to know you can trust that I will do the right thing. This ain't mine, man. For years to come, we're going to help a lot of people.”

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