Tabitha Brown was struck with a familiar wave of nausea. She’d grown used to this feeling, a warning her body sent her when she had a vision of the future and was called to share the message. This time, she’d had a dream that her co-worker Miss Stella had sliced off two fingers at the Macy’s warehouse where they worked in the mid-2000s. When she told Miss Stella her dream might portend illness and urged her to see a doctor, the woman complied—and was soon diagnosed with cancer.
These visions, or as Brown calls it, the gift of “second sight,” started when she was a child. The 42-year-old says they’ve warned her of everything from the death of a friend’s spouse to a dangerous car ride that almost left her daughter hurt. Her mother, herself able to see, told her it was a gift not to be squandered.
Soothsaying and dream interpretation aren’t what people usually think of when they think of Brown, an actor and vegan “momfluencer.” She shot to viral fame on TikTok last year as one of the app’s top creators for her videos of herself cooking, telling stories from her life and offering encouragement to anyone having a hard time. In the time since creating her account in March 2020, she has become one of the Internet’s kindest, if most unlikely, superstars.
In corners of the web that are typically dominated by young, thin, white women—vegan content, self-improvement and TikTok more broadly—Brown, who aspires to be known as “America’s mom,” stands out for her warmth, sincerity and zingy catchphrases, like “That’s your business!” and “Like so, like that!” Brown says the same deep care and spirituality that inspire her compulsion to share her visions with people like Miss Stella is what drives her to connect with her audience on TikTok, where her nearly 5 million followers tune in as much for positive affirmations and wise humor, delivered in her soothing Southern lilt, as they do for her easy vegan recipes. Brown, who toiled for two decades trying to establish a career in Hollywood, has transformed social media domination into the kind of industry opportunities and recognition she always dreamed of—in the past year, she portrayed a character that Lena Waithe specifically wrote for her in the fourth season of The Chi; won an NAACP Image award; was the subject of a drag queen homage on RuPaul’s Drag Race; began hosting a show, All Love, on the Ellen Digital Network; and launched the process of developing her own sitcom with Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnick.
And she’s set to release a memoir, Feeding the Soul (Because It’s My Business), on Sept. 28. In the book, much like her social media accounts, Brown sandwiches pep talks and vegan recipes between anecdotes of a spiritual and at times supernatural ilk, like the story of Miss Stella’s cancer diagnosis. She treats every life experience as an opportunity to share a lesson learned, sometimes the kind that verges on the cliché sentimentality of a “Live, Laugh, Love” sign, but always bolstered by the same authentic, sincere joy that has made her a hit on TikTok.
To hear Brown tell it, she was destined for fame—another of her visions. “I pursued a dream for over 20 years, and it was not successful for the majority,” she says. “But I never stopped, because the faith inside of me said something greater is coming.”
From a young age, Brown felt she was meant to be a performer. She dreamed of captivating an audience like Keshia Knight Pulliam did as Rudy Huxtable. Growing up in Eden, N.C., she developed her stage presence and comedic timing by cracking jokes at family cookouts and acting in school and local theater. After a semester of studying fashion design at a Miami college, a 19-year-old Brown decided to commit seriously to her acting ambitions by moving to California. The move was difficult and short-lived, however, with Brown heading back home after a few months to save money and join her then-boyfriend (now husband) Chance Brown in Greensboro, armed with a plan to return to Los Angeles in a year. One year turned into five, a period of time that included an unplanned pregnancy, a wedding, new career ventures and a mortgage.
But Brown never forgot her acting dreams, and a successful gig as a co-host of a late-night entertainment show on a local TV station reinvigorated her ambition. By 2004, Brown and her family finally made the move to L.A., where she started auditioning while working a day job at the Macy’s warehouse.
It would be over a decade before Brown became the star she always felt destined to be—and in the most unexpected of ways. In March 2020, as the dread of COVID-19 lockdown set in, Brown joined TikTok at the urging of her teenage daughter. While she initially created her account to participate in the popular Renegade dance challenge, Brown quickly became a viral sensation herself, as her wholesome, decidedly maternal videos provided followers on the platform a comforting respite from the chaos of the world.
Brown had experienced viral fame once before, in 2017, when she was working as an Uber driver. On a break one day, she stopped by Whole Foods and picked up the store’s vegan take on a BLT: a TTLA (tempeh bacon, tomato, lettuce and avocado). On a whim, she posted a rapturous video review of the sandwich, which she praised as being so good that “my life is changing right before my eyes,” to Facebook. The video kicked off a copycat trend and prompted Whole Foods to offer her a brand ambassador deal, which led to more opportunities as a vegan influencer.
Doing vlogs on Facebook provided a space for her to be real in a way she had never been able to professionally, a respite from the constant code-switching she was expected to do with her clothes, her hair and even her voice for her corporate jobs and auditions. The small but loyal following Brown had begun building on Facebook before she went viral (now 2.6 million strong) became a way for her heal in more ways than one; while she charted her vegan journey in an effort to improve her physical health—she became vegan after observing that a plant-based diet improved some chronic health issues—she also opened up about her personal struggles, talking for the first time about the sexual assault she experienced at 15.
What she found on Facebook was not just a following, she says, but also a community that wanted to heal and grow alongside her. “I enjoy helping people feel seen and loved and heard,” Brown says. “I love making people laugh. Honey, even sometimes making them cry, because we all need it.”
Brown’s spiritual, perpetually hopeful book is not for the skeptics, the cynics or the harsh realists. In one particularly memorable chapter, she details a conversation with her mother, who was dying from ALS, where she joked that after she was gone, she would leave her daughter dimes to make her presence felt. Just two weeks after her mother’s death in North Carolina, upon her return to L.A., Brown says she found multiple dimes in her bed and shower. The author, aware of how this and other stories in the book may sound, points out that it takes more effort to discredit something than it does to believe in it.
“I know what I’ve seen,” she says with a calm assurance. “It’s not my job to make you believe. My job is simply to share.”
That attitude aligns with one of her signature quips: “That’s your business!” It’s a phrase Brown deploys liberally in her videos when instructing how much garlic powder to use or whether or not to garnish with red onion, but it has also become a guiding principle of the Tabitha Brown motivational gospel—which is, basically, if you can show love and kindness to yourself and others, blessings are sure to follow. She figures that those who need to hear her supernatural stories are the ones who will choose to believe them and continue reading. Whether or not they do is their business, but being true to herself is fully hers.
“That’s your business!” is also an apt description of Brown’s attitude toward her veganism, which parallels her view of spirituality: she favors a gentle, non-judgmental approach. While she grew up in the church, she has chosen to leave behind religious traditions in favor of her own interpretation of spirituality. And although she’s an enthusiastic vegan because of the health benefits she has experienced, she admits to dreaming of crab legs and initially viewing vegans as “white women who do yoga out in a field.”
As might be expected, Brown’s version of veganism has stirred up the ire of some of its more staunch ethical adherents. “When you’re forced to go to church all the time, the last thing you want to do is go to church,” she says, suggesting that her approach has probably convinced thousands of people to try vegan food, if not convert to full-fledged veganism. “What I say is, ‘This is what it did for me,’ or, ‘This is how I make this and it’s so good—you should try it!’” There are certain vegan communities, Brown says, who “hate” her. “I say to them, ‘God bless you, first of all, but I probably saved more animals than you,’” she says. “I’m not trying to hurt anyone in the process of trying to help someone.”
Brown’s deep commitment to gentleness and her overarching message of love—traits that have made her a household name in the aggressive chaos of the Internet—may also be the only real threat to the near-universal adoration she enjoys online. In the wake of a national reckoning with structural racism and police brutality last year, some of Brown’s followers raised criticism over her husband being a police officer. While Brown was vocal about the need for racial justice and reform, her approach remained the same: graceful, gentle and decidedly non-confrontational.
“You have to remember when it comes to activism—no matter what type—it’s rooted in pain,” Brown says, citing the examples of movements to defend the lives of humans and animals who are under threat. “I’m a love activist. I try my best to spread love and make people feel less pain.”
More often than not, Brown’s gentle approach has the Internet entranced—and it’s especially powerful when she uses it to defuse conflict. This summer, her husband’s employment was in the news again, but for a very different reason. After Brown announced in a YouTube video that her success over the past year allowed Chance to retire from the Los Angeles Police Department, talk show host Wendy Williams took issue with that choice and predicted that Brown’s marriage would suffer like Williams’ own did after she financially supported her ex-husband. Brown took to Instagram to send a loving but pointed message of positivity to Williams.
“Wendy, the pain you must be in to feel this way, and I’m so sorry,” she says warmly in the clip, describing the strength of her marriage before launching into a prayer for Williams. “I pray that love finds you—true love… Let us all pray for people like Miss Wendy and others who have either been so hurt or never found a genuine love that fills their heart with so much compassion and joy.” (A representative of Williams did not respond to a request for comment.)
Brown’s prayer for Williams evokes another of her other popular catchphrases, one she got from her father that is now beloved by her followers: “Have a good day, and even if you can’t, don’t go messing up nobody else’s.” It’s a constant reminder for Brown to spread love, because even though she spends a good deal of her time spreading positive vibes, she admits she’s not completely immune to the negativity and trolling that runs rampant online. But just as she has felt confident in her other dreams and visions, Brown is serenely self-assured that she can help make the Internet a kinder, gentler place—one post at a time.
“The Internet has been a place where people can make others feel the way they feel,” she says. “Some feel anger, sadness, bitterness, pain, and they want other people to feel that. And I do the same thing—I try to make people feel the way I feel: happy. I do believe love conquers all.”
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