Anonymous Kindness: The Lansing Ninjas

The Lansing Ninjas movement was born of inspiration from a blog called Secret Agent L. The blog, based in Pittsburg, began with the anonymous blogger setting out with a noble goal - to spread kindness to the people who were least expecting it. Ambush kindness, if you will. Secret Agent L, who has become a media sensation, revealed her identify as part of a fundraiser for the National Association on Mental Illness. After her cover was blown, “Secret Agent L,” Laura Miller, invited those who were influenced by her project to join her as “Affiliated Agents”. That’s when the Lansing Ninjas idea was born.

The Ninjas, who remain completely anonymous, are a force of four people. They give credit for their inception to Secret Agent L, but decided to put their own spin on the idea. They love Lansing and their mission is simple - “To help other people love Lansing, too”. They do this through “drops” of little gifts - gift cards, Groupons, or inspirational notes, which they then photograph with their namesake Ninja and details on their blog.

Stealthy Beginnings

The blog began in September 2010 and their first mission followed in October. The Ninjas try to patronize local business as much as possible, and that was evident in their first mission - a drop of Biggby Coffee gift cards in four Lansing locations. The Ninjas have divided the city into four quadrants and each one of them have their very own stomping (err… kicking? chopping?) ground. 

As described and photographed for display on the blog, the Ninjas have continued to spread their mission through decorating a tree in Old Town for Christmas, leaving cards and notes for patients at the Sparrow Cancer Center, hiding Biggby gift cards for Lansing Community College students who were preparing for exams, and thanking unsuspecting voters for fulfilling their civic duty on election day.

“It’s never hard to think of a mission,” says one of the Ninjas. “We try not to get too specific, but people’s love for goodies is universal.” A recent “goodie” mission included leaving a Groupon for the Sugar Shack bakery on the windshield of a car outside Pierre’s Bridal and Prom Salon. “It doesn’t matter if someone has all the money in the world,” said a Ninja. “It’s just the little things that make them feel good.”

Celebrity Fans

Since being profiled in the Lansing State Journal in December, the Ninjas have been creating their own sort of affiliate program (i.e. Ninja Boot Camp). Copycat blogs have sprung up in the form of East Lansing Ninjas and Jackson Shinobis. The Lansing Ninjas started to become inundated with requests to join their roving gang, and they decided to encourage their fans to perform their own missions for inclusion on the Ninjas’ blog.

The first guest post came from State Representative Barb Byrum. Byrum was impressed by a resourceful lunch-packer at the House Office Building and, ever stealthily, snuck a YaYa’s gift card into the brown bag in the office refrigerator. Byrum’s enthusiasm for the Ninjas is catching.

“I believe the secret acts of kindness are a wonderful way to promote friendship and appreciation in our community,” she says. “The pay-it-forward philosophy has such positive impacts on the lives of strangers.”

In December, radio personality and man about town, Tim Nester, started using Twitter to show his love for the Ninjas. They promptly reciprocated by dropping a gift off for him while he was on the air. “When I first heard about the Ninjas I thought ‘What a cool, positive way to show what Lansing is all about!’ ”, Nester says.  “I've followed them since the beginning and was amazed at how a couple of simple acts of kindness and giving could really make a difference to people's lives.

When I was gifted, I was having a bad week and the simple gift of a coffee mug and some coffee, as well as a smile brightened up the rest of my week. I've posted all sorts of links to the ninjas and can't wait for more people to embrace this aspect of #lovelansing.”

A favorite mission for one of the Ninjas happened on Christmas Eve. After making a trip to Sparrow Hospital, the Ninjas asked the nurses to point them in the direction of patients who would be spending the holiday in the hospital. The Ninjas located the patients and left gifts for them that they thought the patients would enjoy- holiday pins for the ladies, candies and Christmas ornaments.

“This was a real challenge, because you’re looking at somebody who isn’t in a great situation,” said one of the Ninjas. “What’s actually most rewarding is that you don’t see the reaction, so you can just think to yourself about how it made them feel.”

Ninja Anonymity

Along with the increasing notoriety comes curiosity about the true identity of the Ninjas. They won’t remove their masks and show their faces. The Ninjas place a premium on the importance of remaining anonymous.

“This isn’t about us,” they all agree. “It’s a lot easier to be promotional about the blog and about what we’re doing if we’re not being self-promotional.” Ninja wannabe Byrum agreed. “The feeling of doing good deeds without anyone knowing is so rewarding,” she said. “I have no idea who the Lansing Ninjas are but thank them for starting a wonderful culture … in our community.”

Plans for the Future

The Ninjas encourage everyone in the Capital region to adopt their mission and use it in their own way. They also want to hitch their cart to the #lovelansing movement and ride it all the way to the dojo. “We want to affect the perception of Lansing,” says a Ninja. “We feel so good about this city and we want other people to feel the same way.”

The Ninjas would also like to partner with some of Lansing’s most generous and well-loved businesses. Their wish list includes Bibbgy Coffee, Great Lakes Chocolate and Coffee, Sugar Shack, Cravings Popcorn and Bake n Cakes (obviously if you are Ninja-fied, you should also consider doing a few martial arts of your own that day). The Ninjas can be contacted through their blog.

So if you find yourself watching someone approach a parked car, leave a gift behind and do a karate chop in the air, don’t be alarmed. They’re just a Lansing Ninja.

Gabrielle Johnson is a regular contributor to Capital Gains.

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Ninja eyes!

Tim Nester with his Ninja coffee cup gift, and the ninjas he's used for his gifting

Lansing Ninjas thanking the LPD (Courtesy photo)


All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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