“Carl and I started Harper Tech in 2002 in a little pink building on Dauphin Street. He was 13 and I was 19. My granddad was a retired electrical engineer who had also served in the Army. He worked at the post office and operated a chain of movie theaters. My mom and dad worked full time and I spent a lot of time my grandparents who live around the corner. We learned so much from them.
My grandparents had a pool and I was the pool boy. My wife wants a pool and I won’t let her have one. My cousin drowned in my grandparents’ pool at my 14th birthday party. There was trauma losing my cousin as a teenager. But there was also a problem with the newspaper story about the drowning. The last sentence was that there were no drugs or alcohol found at the scene. It was a 14 year old’s birthday party, why did they mention drugs and alcohol? My granddad was so mad that he called the paper. At the time I didn’t understand, but that is one of the moments in life that shaped me. However, my wife may end up winning the argument about getting a pool.
I told my kindergarten teacher that I wanted to be an astronaut. She said, put your mind on whatever you want to do, and that’s what you’ll do. I grew up with supportive teachers and family. My granddad taught me how to solder when I was three. I learned how to read schematics before I learned how to read books because my grandad liked to repair TVs. I also learned how to build amplifiers as a kid. My dad had a gift for mechanical repairs. He’s retired now and his hobby is rebuilding cars. BMWs are his favorite.
In seventh and eighth grades, technology became relevant and I was the geeky kid into it. A ninth-grade assignment was interviewing someone in the profession you wanted to go into. I picked up the phone book and looked for computer techs or engineers. I interviewed Bill Roman. He asked me why I want to work with computers and I told him the money is good. He said, wrong answer, come back when you get the right one. I went back and told him that figuring things out feels good to me. It’s rewarding when I can use my gifts to help someone else. He was closing his office and gave me the equipment in his warehouse for me to practice on. My grandparents had moved the house my grandmother lived in to their property and we set the computers up in there. That is where Carl and I began.
I worked for a computer company while I went to college at South. The company turned me down for a pay increase, but the owners had just bought a new Navigator and a new airplane. I realized I could do this on my own and make more money. I left and we started Harper Technologies, bartering a spare office from a friend. This is our 18th year in business and we operate under one simple principle. Do something you love everyday and help people understand a language that they otherwise wouldn’t understand. That’s technology. Everything you do is your ministry. Do it with excellence. We average between 10 and 12 employees. By the end of summer we hope to have 15.
If you love someone, you want to hear where their heart is. You want to understand what they feel. Your focus shouldn’t be on their anger, but what is causing the anger. How do we fix this? People have to want to have that conversation. If people are listening, you’re understanding that injustice is a pain and there’s a way to remedy that pain by standing up for truth. By standing up for justice you are standing up for life.
Moving forward starts with a few things. First, look deep inside and find out how much you love yourself. The things we do that affect our communities, our brothers and sisters, all colors, all genders, all ages. Whatever we do to them, we’re ultimately doing it to ourselves. Our communities are not independent. Our households might be segregated in some areas, but we’re not isolated. We’re self-destructing if we’re perpetuating that cycle. Be intentional about the people you hire and expand the diversity of your business.
Second, teach your kids to love people, then teach them how to discern the good from the bad. Third, be intentional about your friend circle. Have friends who are diverse and with different backgrounds. Learning about someone else’s culture matters. It gives you a bigger perspective on the world. Bring your diverse friends together. My pastor jokes if you are white in Mobile and don’t have one black friend, try harder. If every day people could coexist in life as they coexist at Mardi Gras, we’d have no problems.
My mom you used to say a little common sense goes a long way. I live by that. A lot of what is going to happen in the future will be predicated on how compassionate people are to one another. This is an opportunity to look at where segregation is still happening. Three of the most segregated places are the church, the classroom, and the dinner table. We worship the same God. We learn the same information. We eat the same food. Why aren’t we blending these to make a better future? That part falls on community leadership. The people who don’t want to participate in that are going to have to find their way.
Acceptance is a byproduct of comfort and comfort is the result of transparency. People want to be heard and accepted. We must have the honest conversations and diverse relationships that lead to understanding and acceptance.”