Hayes’ role as a humanitarian began to take sharper focus in late 1991, when he and Barry White traveled to the Ivory Coast in Africa to shoot a video for “Dark & Lovely (you over there),” the single from White’s comeback album Put Me In Your Mix. The following year, Hayes and Dionne Warwick accepted an invitation by the Cultural Minister of Ghana (Ivory Coast’s eastern neighbor) to visit the Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles. Walking through the dungeons, listening to the horrifying stories told by the guide, Hayes was overwhelmed with emotion.
“It was almost like I heard the voices of my ancestors saying, ‘We’ve come back home through you. The circle is complete. Now, you know what you must do’,” he later told a journalist. When the weeping was done, Hayes realized it was not enough to help finance the renovation of the castles, there was bigger work to be done in Africa: He asked how much it would cost to build a school. Returning to America, Hayes took his energy on the road, speaking to African-American community groups and Black expos around the country. He encouraged everyone he met to visit Africa if they could, to interact with the people, or at the very least to support economic development.
One speaking engagement in Queens, New York, was attended by Princess Naa Asie Ocansey of Ghana, who phoned a week later. “Mr. Hayes,” she asked, “would you like to be a king?” She had told her father, Nene Kubi III, a ‘king-maker,’ of Hayes’ commitment and he said, “We need to honor this man.” The coronation rituals that usually took up to two weeks were condensed to two days in late December 1992. The spectacle was attended by Public Enemy who did concerts with Hayes at Cape Coast Castle and in Accra, Ghana’s capital city.
Hayes was given a royal name: Nene Katey Ocansey I. “Nene means king in the Ga Dialect,” he explains. “Katey means brave warrior who can calm the wild beast in the elements. Ocansey is a family name, the most powerful of the ten clans in my region, Ada, which means I do as I say!” He was appointed King for Development over the region and given land on which to build a palace. But the palace would wait: “You need education over here,” he told them, “you need literacy.”
There is little to match Hayes’ devotion to spreading the message that literacy and education are the keys to freedom and prosperity in this world. In 1993, he stumbled into Scientology and the study technology process it teaches. That same year he was named the international spokesman for Applied Scholastics’ World Literacy Crusade, which currently has over 20 literacy programs in five countries with more than 1,800 people participating.
Soon after, he started The Isaac Hayes Foundation (IHF, based on Wall Street), whose mission is to enable people around the world to become whole by promoting literacy, music education, nutritional education, and innovative programs that raise self-esteem among the underprivileged and teach young people how to study.