Payne is the chair of the Annual Legislative Conference, which means he is largely responsible for orchestrating what everyone else knows as Black Caucus Weekend. Payne is the first African American elected to the House from New Jersey. He succeeded Peter Rodino in 1989 after the legendary congressman retired. Payne has been active on issues involving Africa, especially the Darfur region.
The northern California Democrat holds the seat first won by Ron Dellums in 1971. As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, she is charged with leading the 42 House members, a task that has been compared to herding cats. Lee drew national attention when she was the only member of the House or the Senate to vote against the authorization of use of force in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. She said she was not against going to war but against giving the Bush administration a blank check.
Lisa Jackson is the first African American to head the Environmental Protection Agency. She grew up in New Orleans and has been a key player in addressing the impact of the BP oil spill on her hometown and region. She may be the first EPA administrator to say the words "environmental justice."
As U.S. trade representative, Kirk is involved in the tricky negotiations over international commerce that can have a profound impact on the U.S. economy. A former mayor of Dallas, Kirk has always had strong support from the business community. He has not hesitated to criticize China's Internet-censorship policies as an unfair barrier to trade.
Barnes left a senior position at liberal think tank the Center for American Progress to become President Obama's domestic-policy adviser. An attorney, she was chief counsel to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Proof that Barnes is an insider: She's played golf with President Obama -- the first woman to join a presidential foursome.
Michael Blake is associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The duties of this Bronx, N.Y., native include outreach to key stakeholders in the African-American community, including the NAACP and the National Urban League. He was profiled  by The Root last year.
Lanier Avant is chief of staff for Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who heads the Homeland Security Committee. He is one of the youngest staff directors and one of the few African-American staff directors on the Hill. The committee he oversees is one of the most powerful, given its prime role in developing policies to protect the nation. Lanier is also known as the unofficial host of the CBCI Policy Conference in Tunica, Miss., that is well-attended by CBC members and senior K Street denizens.
As chief of staff for Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Strautmanis is very much in the president's inner circle. He served as Obama's counsel when he was in the U.S. Senate. But Strautmanis was a confidant of the Obamas well before the election. He is said to be one of their closest friends, having met them when he was a paralegal at Sidley Austin, the Chicago law firm where both Barack and Michelle worked. The name? From his Latvian stepfather.
Marcus Mason is a senior partner with the Madison Group, a boutique lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. He spent 15 years at Amtrak, working on transportation issues with Congress. Earlier, Mason built his knowledge of the Hill as chief of staff for two House members, including former CBC member Walter Tucker (D-Calif.). Mason works closely with a number of CBC members in the California delegation. He is on the board of the CBC Foundation.
Chaka Burgess is a lobbyist for Amgen, the powerful biotech company. Burgess has a history of working in the pharmaceutical sector. His résumé includes stints at Eli Lilly and the National Medical Association. A Howard University grad, this former Bison is a power player with strong connections in both political Washington and local "deecee." Burgess sits on the board of the CBC Foundation.