Ismatu Gwendolyn: Educator, Activist, and Empathetic Lovely

ismatu gwendolyn | Substack

In lieu of an essay to share with you all this week, I thought to share resources through to someone who’s been my guiding compass these past few months. 

I’ve been following Ismatu (all pronouns, with respect) for the greater part of two years on Tiktok, but only recently with the events of October 7th and the ongoing 170+ days of genocide at the hands of Zionist-led settler colonialism have I managed to recognize the immense hope, grief, knowledge, and love they share constantly. And more importantly, how radical it is that they share it, knowingly, for free. 

I initially came across Ismatu’s videos in regard to Capital B Beauty, where, over the course of several dozen videos, they expertly unpacked and simplified a complex academic text, Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by fat, black queer theorist Da’Shaun L. Harrison. At the time, Ismatu was pursuing his masters degree at the University of Chicago and I had never seen someone take the time to explain Theory in regular plain-english and with awareness of the inaccessibility of most academic texts, especially for the communities they’re describing and attempting to reach. Such is the seed of all of Ismatu’s work, generating further points of access and preaching to the possibility of one’s reach. It was only until recently, in fact in one of Ismatu’s videos, where I learned 54 percent of Americans read below a 6th grade level, so that illiteracy becomes not only a problem of the American populus, but a deliberate maneuver to maintain control over people of the Global Majority. 

Informed by black feminist radical tradition, Ismatu is a black, queer, muslim activist, writer, healer, poet, sex worker, and life-long learner with roots in Sierra Leone. Currently based in New York, their essays range from summaries and analyses of selected readings on theory and praxis to abstract poetry and somatic, grounded discussions of oppression in all forms. Because of their commitment to learning with love, trust, awareness, and care (which innately requires a distancing from policing and other carceral strategies), Ismatu is a trained counselor and mental health professional refusing to be licensed by the state and essentially working for free. All of her writing, including essays, podcasts, quizzes, videos, and even therapy sessions are made available for no charge, allowing Ismatu to divorce from individualistic monetary pursuits and fully align with their pledge for transformative community care. It’s only through the support of mutual aid—that is venmo, cashapp, patreon, substack, and other direct action in the form of just a few dollars from online supporters invested in Ismatu’s quality of life and mission—that any of this is possible. Ismatu’s discussions of mutual aid, policing via medicalization, demystifying “self-care” therapy, and cultivating intergenerational community has been particularly essential for my recent learning in regard to decentering white supremacy culture from my life and any-and-all capitalist aspirations as an abolitionist, writer, and activist. In particular, he’s helped me recognize the interrelatedness of all oppression via patterns within disability justice, housing justice, prison abolition, and more. It’s an honor to be able to share more about Ismatu and their life!

Recommendations for engaging with Ismatu’s work:

Podcasts & Essays:


Social Media:

Similar projects by other disabled, QTBIPOC, and/or abolitionist writers (*including some of Ismatu’s recommendations):

  • *Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun L. Harrison
  • Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
  • Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
  • *How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity by Dr. LaMarr Jurelle Bruce
  • I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom
  • *Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (and the Next) by Dean Spade
  • Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs