WASHINGTON (CNN) – In a hallway lined with portraits of her predecessors, Lisa Jackson is reminded daily of her unique status - as the first African-American to head up the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I don't think of it every moment. ... [But] what I hope that we see at the end of this are activists who look like me - activists who represent the future demographic of our country because that's who's going to be the EPA in the future."
And walking the halls also brings forth a sentimental feeling.
Jackson's father was a postal carrier - one of the few jobs she says was available to African-American men in the South when she was growing up. He died when she was a teenager, and she's reminded of him often when she's at work. The building housing EPA headquarters originally was built for the then-U.S. Department of Post Office in the 1930s.
But it's also her background as a mother, graduate from Princeton and Tulane universities and an African-American from New Orleans' 9th Ward that she says allows her to tackle the issues facing the environment.
As Hurricane Katrina battered the vulnerable Louisiana city in 2005, Jackson was on the verge of a career change: New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine asked her to head up the state's Department of Environmental Protection. She says it was a hard choice because Katrina destroyed more than just her family's home - it destroyed the entire community.