Most of us have that one friend who is constantly in motion and brimming with passion and energy while challenging the norms. Jeri Hardin is that kind of person.
As the owner of h.u.e. Technology (whose acronym stands for Houston unapologetic enterprise), Hardin is one of the only Black female owners of an IT company in the nation. As an out lesbian and book author, promoting acceptance of those who might otherwise be sidelined is her passion. She works tirelessly for 2nd Chances.Life, a Houston-based nonprofit that helps those who have been incarcerated find their footing after being released.
“Along with two other women, I wrote the first-ever reentry program to help people at Bryan Federal Prison Camp, a minimum-security facility. The program has been a huge triumph, and has helped thousands obtain life resources prior to release.
“With 2nd Chances.Life, I learned that many of the men and women on the inside were terrified of release, having no place to live, no income to start a new life, and no one to help,” she notes.
2nd Chances.Life provides individuals with their own apartment, believing a solid foundation starts with a home. It then assists with job placement, life skills training, and continuing education. Recognizing the value of mental health, each candidate must commit to 18 months of counseling on release, a service often critical to help overcome the trauma of incarceration.
Quincy Moore had served 18 years of his 35-year sentence when he was released. With the help of Hardin, h.u.e. Technology, and 2nd Chances.Life, Moore is thriving today.
“2nd Chances has been wonderful for me. They helped with my interviewing skills, advised me on dressing, and encouraged me. Now I am working for Jeri as a cable-puller, and it’s thrilling. I’ve learned that it is possible to prosper in the world and make a good living. Now I help others who are just getting out of prison to give back. Giving back is the very best way to say Thank you, he concludes with a twinkle in his eye.
Hardin began her IT career 25 years ago, and worked extensively in the oil and gas industry. In 2016, she decided it was time to take the leap into the entrepreneurial deep end. She jumped and never looked back.
“Today, our company is a full IT services company, providing WiFi access points, POS infrastructure, IT networks and IP camera installation—all the services known as ‘Low Voltage’ across Texas. Companies really appreciate what we bring to the table. We often work on building sites right along with construction crews, and it’s not unusual for me to be the only woman there,” she states, laughing.
Hardin admits that being a female in a male-dominated industry has been tough. But she’s found her footing. “Because I am one of the only 100 percent Black and female owned IT companies in Texas, I have to be excellent,” she says. “I have high standards [for myself and my employees]. Customers are always happy with our work. Indeed her list of loyal clients includes the City of Houston, Comcast, and Cornerstone Construction, among many others. Hardin is currently working on a 64-unit apartment development with Cornerstone.
“I was impressed when we first met with Jeri and her team,” states Marlon Henderson, owner of Cornerstone Construction. “I really liked her enthusiasm, and my instincts were correct. H.u.e. has proven to be a real asset on the site.”
For many years, Hardin has been a member and volunteer at St. John’s United Methodist Church in downtown Houston. Despite a controversial United Methodist policy that bans same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, St. John’s has affirmed its LGBTQ members.
“Jeri is a highly valued here,” says St. John’s pastor, Rudy Rasmus. “St. John’s is one of the most diverse congregations in Texas. There are people from all walks of life and backgrounds here, and they are all welcomed.”
Rasmus says Hardin got St. John’s involved in helping the formerly incarcerated assimilate after release. “Every Wednesday, we also pass out 20 tons of food to hungry families,” Rasmus says. “Jeri is always here helping.”
Hardin has learned a lot on her journey, and she decided to share some of her insights in a book called How to Start a Business.
“I knew I was different early on in life,” Hardin recalls. “I just did not know what my [identity] was called back then, and we were pretty much outcasts. Being a lesbian in the ‘80s did not appear to pan out for me back then. I had my daughter, Dawn Haygood-Walker in 1983.”
The two women are best friends today, and Haygood-Walker is a successful insurance analyst in New York City.
“I have learned so much from my mother. I learned how to get back up when knocked down—how to keep trying and never give up. She has been a wonderful example for me. But mostly, I learned how to love,” Haygood-Walker emphasizes.
So where does the passionate Hardin direct her energy when it comes to matters of the heart now?
“I have just discovered that I am a true romantic. My dream is to take care of someone, love her, and pamper her. I only recently arrived at this, and I look forward to exploring it further,” Hardin says, laughing at herself. “It could be fun!”
For more information on h.u.e. Technology, visit hue-technology.com.
This article appears in the July 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.