Featured in the first episode of the Netflix series’ second season, which premiered Friday, the cancer survivor and school teacher — who just retired after 31 years in education — meets the Fab 5 (Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan) at her home in Gay, Georgia (yep, it’s a real place!). There, they help freshen up her look; learn more about and help build the confidence of her gay son, Myles, who recently returned home; and transform a long-in-the-works community center that’s about to play host to her church’s homecoming. A devout Christian, Hicks shares her emotional story — one that doesn’t beg for pity but instead celebrates her warm, welcoming, love-over-hate attitude and deserves to be heard on an international stage.
That’s exactly what she got via the streaming service’s global audience, whom she’s heard from in droves in the days since the new season premiered.
“If I put a world map up on the wall, I could probably put a pin in almost every country,” says Hicks, who called up EW while on a cruise to Mexico and Honduras, of the thousands of comments she’s received. “It’s one universal message that every single body is talking about, how Mama Tammye gives them hope and love. It’s just… oh my gosh, I’m just in awe.”
The end of the episode packs a particular punch as she turns her attention to the Fab 5, encouraging them to keep sharing their gifts with people because this, as she explains, was God’s plan for them. “It was heart to heart, soul to soul with myself and the guys,” she shares. “I just opened my mouth and asked God to speak through me, and everything that I said was divine and meant just for them.”
It meant a lot to viewers, as well, who are praising Hicks on social media as “an angel,” a “beautiful soul,” and a “personification of all that is good and kind in this world,” applauding, in particular, her “tolerance and love” of LGBTQ people — including her own son.
“A lot of the messages I get, people are hurting, and they talk about how the show has healed the wounds,” she says.
Even though Hicks experienced firsthand the filming of the episode last summer, seeing it play out was no less emotional for her. In fact, maybe more so.
“I cried. Let me tell you. When I say I cried… that was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen before in my life,” she admits of her initial viewing of the episode, which she’s now seen three times. “[It’s] not just my soul to their souls connect, but the audience and people watching, all their souls are connecting for a divine purpose. That’s what the viewers have shared with me — how they have reconnected with family, how they have reconnected with God, and how they have reconnected with things from their past.”
Hicks’ own past plays a large role in who she is today, having recently battled stage 3 breast cancer. (Hicks’ sister was diagnosed not long after and appears in the episode alongside her; her mother received her diagnosis within the same year, but did not survive.) Like many, she admits she was “torn” after receiving the news and asked “why me?” — but she eventually found a silver lining.
“I just had to have some time to meditate and figure out, why am I going through this? And it was like five days later the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I need you to go through cancer because there are people there waiting to be made whole,’” she says. “At that particular point, my eyes became open to the purpose. Everything took on new meaning, even the grass and the trees, things sounded differently and looked differently. My eyes became open to life and the importance of how we’re here not for ourselves, but for the betterment of others and humanity.”
She continues: “And then, with my son, it was like, ‘What in the world [am I doing]?’ It opened my eyes to my son, he’s standing right there in front of me! Sometimes you have to have introspect about yourself… ‘What is it about me that I cannot love my son?’ That right there, it opened up everything. That was a turning point in life.”
It also reaffirmed a belief she says she’s lived by for a long time, one she shares with the Fab 5 and that has been quoted countless times on social media: “You can’t evangelize and antagonize at the same time.”
“A lot of times people say ‘What would Jesus do?’ but everything I know from studying my Bible, he never antagonized anyone and he always spread that love. Whether they needed healing or food — he supplied it,” Hicks says. “Love wins out every time.”
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