This photo shows my daughter skipping home from a recent afternoon piano lesson as a friendly neighborhood dog looks on. It is small-town life at its best: children still play and roam outside here, and there's a sense of safety and security that comes from knowing all of your neighbors (and their dogs).

I live in a small town in the Mississippi Delta, where cotton is still king and the primary source of income is through agriculture. The Delta is one of the most economically poor but culturally rich areas in the U.S. One thing that is often said of the Mississippi Delta is that we are somewhat insulated from the peaks and valleys of the economy--we pretty much stay at a steady low! But it's a great place to live and raise children: very friendly and family-oriented. At the same time, this area retains deep scars from its violent racial past. While people tend to get along well on a personal level, there still seems to be a good deal of distrust between blacks and whites, and the high poverty rate contributes to this divide.