Khalid was preparing to play Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Arena on his first U.S. headlining arena tour when he found out that a gunman had opened fire at a Walmart in his adopted hometown of El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring 24 others. After calling his friends and family, he learned that his mother had been planning to go to that very same Walmart later in the day.
“I was devastated,” says the 21-year-old singer, who moved to the city with his family as a teenager. “I wanted to immediately give back, raise money, raise awareness and help in any way I could.”
“He was ready to jump on a plane and leave the tour,” says his manager, Courtney Stewart. The two made a plan: Khalid would forgo the scheduled break between legs of his Free Spirit Tour to host a benefit for the victims. The concert, dubbed A Night for Suncity, will be held at El Paso’s 12,000-capacity Don Haskins Center on Sept. 1.
The event will be jointly presented by Stewart’s homelessness-prevention charity Right Hand Foundation and Khalid’s youth-focused The Great Khalid Foundation, which he started in May with his mother, Linda Wolfe, serving as president/chairman.
With just days to go before the benefit, Wolfe is working to track down survivors and victims’ family members, ensuring all will be able to attend. “It’s going to allow [survivors] to have a light in their lives for an hour and a half,” Wolfe tells Billboard. Meanwhile, Khalid and Stewart are building a list of soon-to-be-announced guest performers; Stewart notes that Khalid’s “Silence” collaborator Marshmello was among the first to reach out. “The music business is a family,” he says.
Proceeds from the event and an official T-shirt available on Khalid’s merch site will go to the El Paso Shooting Victims’ Fund and the El Paso Community Foundation.
The Great Khalid Foundation has been a dream for the artist. It grew, in part, from his tradition of donating Christmas gifts to El Paso elementary schoolchildren. Already, the organization has rolled out a slew of initiatives that Wolfe says will benefit economically disadvantaged kids in the city. In May, the foundation gave three $10,000 scholarships to high school seniors pursuing performing arts; in August, it donated 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to middle-school students. On Sept. 13, the foundation will open its first official El Paso office, with plans to expand nationally.
Khalid knows he will lose money on the benefit, but he doesn’t mind. Having moved often as a child due to his parents’ military careers, he often calls El Paso his first true home. “The people of El Paso are really special,” he says. “I would not be where I am if my community did not give to me, and I will give back to them any chance I can get.”