In 2008, Ken is cleaned up and baptized, which should be a good thing, but when you have his church telling him, “You must not go back to your old ways,” you can tell all is not right. Basically, Ken finally made the choice between being black and being gay, even if there’s not really a choice. Elouis (Jayne Taini), the church lady from “Part III,” baptizes Ken and works closely with him. “We are blessed to have a forgiving God,” she tells him. Then why does Ken still so obviously feel broken?
The answer, as it does for many of life’s questions, comes in the form of Phylicia Rashad. Ken sees Yvette Flunder (Rashad) give a sermon to her congregation in the City of Refuge Church, an LGBT-inclusive church that welcomes those affected by HIV/AIDS. It’s a church Ken could have used a long time ago, to be honest. As she delivers her sermon on how we’re all “created in God’s own image” and preaches of love, Ken is clearly moved… but Elouis shows up to tell him this congregation is only here because they rent the space once a week to recover bills. In case you’re wondering how Elouis truly feels about this church, she doubles down on all that awful to Ken: “I hope after they go, you might help us cleanse the chapel. This isn’t disinfectant. Blessed water.” Wouldn’t want to catch the gay, right? Then, Elouis decides that hatred trumps money and kicks out the City of Refuge Church without even pretending to have a good reason. Again, she dumps her bigotry on Ken: “The Lord will provide for us in a more holy manner. It’s fine, Ken.”
But this only makes Ken more interested in the church, and after picking up one of their pamphlets, he heads to their home base. “Welcome home” is how Bobbi Jean Baker (Jazzmun), one of the church’s ministers, greets him, and this is it. This is his calling. It’s also, unsurprisingly, in a bad part of town, and two members of the congregation, Paul (Jeremiah Birkett) and Seville (Alexandra Grey), end up stealing from his car. Since they’re part of the congregation and its meal program, the latter might have to be shut down because of their behavior. (Seville’s backstory is especially heartbreaking, as she’s a trans woman who was put in a men’s prison, found out her partner died from AIDS, then promised to find salvation… only for it not to happen. At least not yet.) And it’s not like the church has the funds anyway. Ken sees that this is his “test” (Bobbi lets him know God has given their church “100 new tests every day”), and he knows what he must do.
First, he goes to Cecilia, who’s a big-time hotshot at the Human Rights Commission now, and after all these years, he finally asks her for help. The two of them go to Roma for help, and these two scenes aren’t just extremely fun and earned — there’s a light in Ken’s eyes that had long been gone. “There’s been so much bad done in the name of God,” Ken tells Roma. “I can assure you, this is not that God.” Then it leads to Cecilia providing the lightest form of blackmail ever, tugging on Roma’s heartstrings because she wouldn’t want to look bad if it got out she let “a black, HIV positive, trans-inclusive church” close because she didn’t have a few more numbers. They get Roma to take it to the Health Commission for a vote to fund the church, and they win. Ken wins. For once. And he now believes “there truly is a God for us.”
Then, because When We Rise is ABC television programming, poor Bobbi immediately gets into a car accident and dies. Bobbi’s family comes into town for the funeral, and there’s pushback from them about her gender. But this time around, even with memories of being told that “there is no gay in a real black man,” Ken’s not lying down. He even goes to Elouis, explains to her how he found a home for his heart and soul at the church, and asks her to help with the funeral for Bobbi, since her family would trust Elouis. He wants their churches to work together, and that’s what happens. And now it’s time for the church to go to Washington to be there for the Supreme Court decision.
With thousands in Washington waiting for the decision and Yvette speaking, Ken runs into Cleve for the first time in ages. “We made it,” Cleve says, which honestly has more meaning than just the one. They’re just both so happy. But Ken has one more person he needs to reconnect with: Michael. Going to the memorial for fallen soldiers, Ken finally says goodbye to his first love, telling him all the things he missed out on but also telling him about all the people who finally stood up. And to make the tears flow even more, he tells Michael that if he sees Richard, “Tell him I miss him, too.” Jonathan Majors, Michael Kenneth Williams — both you men sure know how to break our hearts.
Then everything goes right at the Supreme Court, and Ken becomes a minister at the church as people sing “Oh Happy Day.” So yeah, it’s time to cry again. With this new purpose finally fulfilled, he ends up marrying gay couples, just like he saw a minister marry a straight couple before, with Elouis showing her support. Oh happy day, indeed.
NEXT: Roma & Diane