For days, Marcus Norris flashed his smile in the mirror at home to get ready for his senior class photo.
He needed the practice. Having a nice, big grin was new for Marcus.
Ever since he was 9, he never wanted to show his teeth after a stray bullet struck him in the mouth and robbed him of his smile.
For years, when he cracked up, he hid his mouth behind his hand.
But on Wednesday, thanks to a fundraiser that paid for dental work, the 18-year-old wasn’t shy at all in front of his senior class photographer, John Cox, who’s seen a lot of smiles in his 30 years of taking pictures.
As Cox counted to three, Marcus, holding a basketball in his lap, beamed like a movie star. The big grin surprised Cox.
“I was wondering about it,” Cox said, after taking the photos at Harper High School in Englewood. “He was full on. A lot of kids are shy.”
Cox didn’t know Marcus’ story.
Marcus was shot in the face in 2006 while he sat in his living room with his brothers watching a movie and eating ice cream. He was a victim of a stray bullet that was fired outside his home and went through the wall.
Marcus lost four teeth, including a front incisor. A surgeon removed the bullet from his jaw, but Marcus was too young to receive implants to replace his teeth because his mouth was still growing. Last month, though, he received temporary dentures after a mentor launched a fundraiser to fix his teeth in time for his class photos and his graduation in June.
“Everybody says I look different,” Marcus said after his photos were taken Wednesday morning. “I can smile now. I can’t stop!”
Even in the happiest situations before, Marcus wouldn’t smile.
In 2013, he went to Washington through a high-school mentoring program called “Becoming a Man.” He attended an anti-violence gathering and met Michelle Obama at the White House. In a photo, she is hugging him and beaming radiantly. Marcus is stone-faced.
Earlier this year, Marcus’ mentor in the BAM program, Timothy Jackson, went to his supervisors at Youth Guidance, a nonprofit organization, and suggested holding a fundraiser for him.
More than $3,000 poured in from private donors, and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center offered to do the work and cover any additional expenses. On Feb. 18, Dr. Rachel Zurek fitted Marcus with partial dentures — known as a “flipper.” When he walked in the waiting room to show his adoptive mother, she choked up.
“She was fittin’ to cry,” he said. “I told her not to.”
Marcus — who hopes to attend Iowa Western Community College and study culinary arts — is scheduled to undergo surgery for implants later this year.
His temporary dentures, which Marcus must remove at night when he sleeps, have given him new confidence, Jackson said.
“He’s getting more out of his high school experience now,” Jackson said.
Marcus, who also posed in his red cap and gown Wednesday, ran into his buddies in a hallway after the photo session.They stood in front of a locker plastered with a sticker that said, “Don’t Shoot. I Want To Grow Up,” a reminder that the school at 65th and Wood is the middle of a very rough neighborhood.
Marcus’ friends talked about the smiling “selfies” he’s taken since he got his dentures. He has posted the pictures of himself on Facebook and Instagram.
“People were like, ‘Congratulations, you look good,’ ” Marcus said.
One classmate, 18-year-old Marshawn Boyd, laughed that Marcus was “one quiet dude” until he got his smile back.
“You’d never know he was here. You can’t call him quiet anymore!”