Tabitha Brown is giving us all some much-needed comfort during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 41-year-old actress is rapidly winning over people on social media with her TikTok videos that invite us into her kitchen — and heart — with her warm, Southern accent. Since joining the app in March, Brown has gained 2.5 million followers with her combination of vegan cooking tutorials, motivational messages and videos with her family.
She’s created more than just a food blog. She’s created a sense of comfort, joy and hope at a time when so much feels so uncertain. And she’s been able to give her audience virtual hugs while staying true to her purpose.
“Baby, stop trying to fit in when clearly you were meant to stand out,” she says in one of her more popular non-food-related videos, a testament to her journey. Since going viral on the Gen Z-dominated platform, Brown has shared more than 100 videos displaying her infectious charm and showing how to properly use seasonings “like so, like that,” and adding lots of lime juice to guacamole “cause that’s our business.”
She’s signed with Creative Arts Agency, a dream of hers that was 15 years in the making. Though Brown is seeing success now, her path wasn’t linear. She never really knew how to cook and she definitely didn’t want to make videos for the internet. But she said that listening to God has led her to get out of her comfort zone and win the hearts of millions.
Brown has wanted to act since she was a little girl watching play Rudy Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.” She found her calling early as she began performing in school plays, at church and in community theater. Brown and her husband, Chance, moved to Los Angeles from Eden, North Carolina, in 1998 so she could pursue a career in acting, but she was unprepared, she told HuffPost, so she moved back to North Carolina.
The plan was to move back to Los Angeles in a year, but that year turned into nearly five and a forgotten dream. Thanks to a nudge from God in the form of a literal dream and a supportive husband, they were able to move back to L.A. in 2004.
After her second move to LA, her mother was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It altered life as she knew it.
“My world stopped,” she said. She found herself back in North Carolina for long periods to help care for her mom until she died in 2007. “During that time, it was very eye-opening for me as far as how short life is, and it started making me look at the world a little different,” she said. “However, I still wasn’t free within myself.”
On top of dealing with her mom being sick, she had to deal with overcoming the obstacle of not aligning with the very homogenous look and sound that Hollywood wanted.
“I was still covering my accent because that’s what my agents had told me was necessary. And also, working in corporate America for a while, you learn to do that to be accepted,” she said. “I was always natural, but I would wear my hair very straight. I would flat iron it every day, wear it long and straight. And to have this one look that was acceptable, right? And constantly starving myself and trying to be skinny, working out crazy and barely eating and taking all kinds of diet pills, trying to fit into this look of Hollywood.”
Brown’s wake-up call to stop conforming came when she got sick in 2016. She had chronic fatigue and a headache for a year and seven months. Doctors weren’t able to diagnose the ailment. Brown eventually fell into a deep depression.
“I really thought I was going to die, and I was in a really dark, dark place of depression and anxiety and of asking God, ‘Why you even keep waking me up? I’m exhausted with this life,’” she recalled. “And I feel like when you get so far to the bottom and you get so far into that dark space, when you look back, you never want to go back there if you come out of it.”
Then she had a “come-to-Jesus moment.” She prayed, “God, I’ve been sick for so long, but if you heal me, I’ll do whatever you ask and you can have me.” She said she felt released from the former version of herself (“old Tab,” as she puts it). She had a revelation that she was probably sick because she was suffocating the real her.
@iamtabithabrown You don’t fit in because you were meant to stand out honey!! Embrace your GREATNESS! ##tabithabrown ♬ original sound – iamtabithabrown
“I decided, ‘You know what? No more trying to be somebody who was trying to fit in when I was always meant to stand out,’” she said. “This is who I am, and honey, people are either going to love it or they’re going to hate you. I ain’t going to try to talk proper no more. I mean, I’m an actress, so if I have to for a role or a character, then I’ll develop that character. But if not, honey, this is who you’re going to get. And so, I just made a choice to be free.”
In August 2017, Brown’s daughter, Choyce, suggested she try veganism after watching the documentary “What The Health” at school. Since the medicines doctors prescribed her weren’t helping, she decided to try a 30-day vegan challenge with Chance. Within the first 10 days, her fatigue and headache went away. Though Chance didn’t make the change, Brown decided to go vegan full-time.
“I always tell people that I used to think vegan meant skinny, honey, but let me tell you, it doesn’t mean that because Tab is big. Okay?” she said.
But her physical health wasn’t the only transformation for Brown. On the road to healing, she had a dream that she saw herself on a TV show with short hair. She woke up confused, as she hadn’t been auditioning while she was sick and she couldn’t make out which show it was. She prayed about it and said God told her to “start doing videos.”
“I was offended. I thought people who did videos were never taken serious in Hollywood,”
She was skeptical, but remembered the promise she made to God at the peak of her illness.
“And he told me, ‘If you start doing videos, you’ll reach thousands in minutes.’ And I was so hesitant because I didn’t have thousands of followers,” she continued. “But I live a life of obedience, now more so than ever. And when you are desperate for healing and you prayed a specific prayer, then you do what he has asked. And that is what kept me being consistent. Looking back over my life every time I’ve ever heard the voice or saw a sign or had a dream, I’ve always had this feeling of a calling on my life.”
The mother of two began posting videos on Facebook. In December 2017, Brown posted one of her first videos that would go viral. The video was an impromptu review of Whole Foods’ TTLA sandwich (tempeh, tomato, lettuce and avocado). Brown’s convincing review led to the viral TTLA challenge in which people recorded themselves trying the sandwich for the first time.
Whole Foods then hired Brown as an ambassador. She appeared in commercials and traveled around the country to talk about veganism. Since then, she’s appeared in various roles, including a guest spot in a January episode of “Will and Grace.”
In March, Choyce told her mom that she should create a TikTok page. Brown was hesitant until her Whole Foods colleague suggested it as well, saying that people would love her personality on the app. Choyce taught her mom, who really only wanted to join to learn the Renegade dance, how to use the app and ever since, Brown has been blessing her followers with her unique and welcoming personality.
“I was literally shocked at all the response that I got, and the outpour from the younger generation of kids and teenagers blew my mind that they felt love for me,” she said. “And then, it became something more of a responsibility to me to them, because I read comments and I look at the responses, and I’m blown away at how many people need love.”
Her dream role is to play America’s mom. “I always say I’m the new Clair Huxtable meets Roseanne right in the middle,” she said. Her goal is to have her own show, ideally a scripted comedy similar to “The Bernie Mac Show.” She also wants to help make Hollywood more authentic so people know that being themselves is enough.
“I can’t stop. That’s why I’ve never stopped because I believe, I truly believe that this was meant for my life,” she said. “Now, it’s blowing my mind every day, though, that it keeps happening. I can’t imagine some of the things that have happened already. It just blows my mind. But I’ve always believed that I’m supposed to do this.”